Amy G's Giants Xclusive -- Brandon Belt
Brandon Belt batted 4-for-4, hitting two home runs on Saturday in the Giants' 11-6 victory over the Rockies. (AP IMAGES)
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Just two years ago, Brandon Belt broke down and cried in Bruce Bochy’s office when the manager told him he’d be the opening-day first baseman.
“You need a beer? Grab a beer,” said Bochy, with the Showtime cameras capturing the whole, memorable scene.
Two years later, Belt once again will stand along the third base chalk at Dodger Staduim as the Giants’ opening-day first baseman. This time, his eyes will be clear – and a little less wide, too.
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“I’m not the same player I was from a mental aspect,” said Belt, whose hot spring reached liquid magma temperatures in a 4-for-4, two-homer day amid an 11-6 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields on Friday. “I know what to expect now.”
Belt won his place two years ago with a big spring, but quickly tailed off. He feels this Arizona performance is no mirage. He’s hitting .439 with six home runs, five doubles, 16 RBIs and 12 runs scored. His six homers match Seattle’s Michael Morse for the most in the Cactus League and his 1.344 OPS ranks behind only the Angels’ Howie Kendrick among all major league hitters this spring.
Bochy often jokes with Belt before a game, asking him what he plans to do. “Hit for the cycle,” is one of Belt’s usual replies.
He almost did. Needing a triple to complete the circuit in his fourth at-bat, Belt instead cleared the fence in center field. Three of his four hits came off left-handed pitchers, too.
“All spring, he’s been so consistent,” Bochy said. “I tell you, what I like about him is his approach. He’s so quiet up there. He’s got so much confidence. And he’s hanging in there well against left-handers.”
Belt batted cleanup Friday. Bochy said he wouldn’t’ hesitate to put Belt third or fourth in the lineup on days when Pablo Sandoval or Buster Posey needed a rest. (Sandoval’s elbow was improved Friday and he remains probable to start the season, but nothing is guaranteed.)
For now, the plan is to keep Belt in the No. 6 hole. Wherever he hits, he said he’s ready for the challenge this time.
“I just don’t think I was prepared earlier in my career,” Belt said. “I was swinging at pitches out of the zone, not swinging at pitches in the zone. I feel on track now. I’ve just gotta keep doing it.”
What does Belt remember from that opening series at Dodger Stadium in 2011?
“I don’t remember a whole lot,” he said. “I was in a daze. It was surreal. I didn’t know what was going on. You could say I was overwhelmed.”
But he does remember his first big league hit off Clayton Kershaw – a “17-hopper to the first baseman,” as he described it.
“Crushed it, didn’t I?” he said, smiling. “I think they’re still deciding if that was a hit.”
Belt also hit a home run in that second game against Chad Billingsley, who might start in that slot again as Zack Greinke takes a little more time to come back from an inflamed elbow. But that was his last highlight for a long while; he hit .178 in his next 15 games, the club optioned him back to Triple-A Fresno and he spent the rest of the year riding the shuttle back and forth.
Belt also knows all about the Dodger-Giant rivalry by now. He’s still getting flak from his rather innocuous comment last month, when he told a group of fans at FanFest that you “can’t buy chemistry.”
“Of course we have great chemistry,” said Belt on Friday, “and everybody else in the league does, too!”
OK, so Belt is learning how to stay off the bulletin board, too. He doesn’t want to motivate the other side – especially when he looks around the room and sees his own team already fired up to repeat as champions.
“You can see it in everybody’s eyes,” Belt said. “We’re all goal oriented. Even though we won the World Series, we aren’t picked by a lot of people to win this division. It doesn’t bother us. I think we actually kind of like it a little. People don’t want to jump on the bandwagon, even after all we’ve done. We have to go out and prove it.”