SAN DIEGO — There is pretty good reason for a slow start from Brandon Belt. A few of them, actually.
The October heel surgery; the coronavirus case in January that depleted his energy; the ensuing mono case that wiped him out for weeks of the Giants’ spring training. The latter two certainly did not help the heel recovery, Belt still building strength in his foot.
And then there is the nine plate appearances he had in the Cactus League, squeezing in just four games before Opening Day, for which he was playing first and batting fifth, in the middle of everything.
Belt is not normally a fast starter — his March and April combined OPS is his second worst, trailing just July in his monthly splits. So his looking off at the plate is not stunning, even if seven strikeouts in a row is.
Gabe Kapler acknowledged it hasn’t been “the best start for Brandon Belt,” and he did not point to Belt’s foot as a source of his struggles.
“I think that part of it has to do with just confidence in the batter’s box right now,” the manager said after the Giants’ 3-1 loss to the Padres on Tuesday night. “We talk a lot about picking a pitch to drive and getting your A swing off on that pitch, and right now, Brandon just hasn’t been able to get his best swing off.
“… But there’s a lot of confidence — I mean, as much confidence in him being just fine as anybody on our roster. Brandon can hit, he can conduct his at-bat. This doesn’t concern me that he’s off to a tough start.”
Belt was out of the lineup for Wednesday’s matinee against tough lefty Blake Snell, and while he might get a late pinch-hit at-bat, a break might not be bad for him. He struck out in all three of his at-bats Tuesday. On Monday, his pinch-hit at-bat was a strikeout. On Saturday against the Mariners, he struck out in all three of his at-bats. He is a player whose strict eye lends itself to some strikeouts on borderline pitches, but seven consecutive is rough for any player.
If there is a dim bright spot, he’s still seeing pitches — a total of 19 in his three punch-outs Tuesday. On those 2-2 and 3-2 counts, though, he has flailed.
It would be easier to excuse if Belt were the only lefty off to a bad start, but it’s a trend. Mike Yastrzemski has struggled with a sore hand; Tommy La Stella has barely played and was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup with a bad back; Alex Dickerson has not gotten a hit since his Opening Day pinch-hit home run (now 1-for-11). Against righty pitchers, the Giants’ 36.4 percent strikeout rate is easily the majors’ worst, Atlanta next up entering play Wednesday at 32.0 percent.
The Giants’ .542 OPS against righties is the fifth worst among teams that have had more than one at-bat against a righty (so, excluding Washington). The Giants are 2-1 in games started by opposing lefties and 0-2 in games started by opposing righties.
Perhaps facing Snell is not the worst development for the Giants.
Kapler had not checked with La Stella yet Wednesday, but believed he would be available.
The infielder had a tight back Tuesday.
The Giants’ lineup behind Kevin Gausman:
1. Austin Slater, CF
2. Mike Yastrzemski, RF
3. Donovan Solano, 2B
4. Evan Longoria, 3B
5. Wilmer Flores, 1B
6. Darin Ruf, LF
7. Curt Casali, C
8. Mauricio Dubon, SS
9. Kevin Gausman, RHP