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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Belt estimated he took 100 swings against live pitching and in batting practice against prospects at the Giants’ minor league complex on Thursday.
That is no guarantee of anything – other than a blister, maybe. There’s no way for the Giants to know if Belt’s timing and bat speed will be able to compete against major league pitching.
Better they find out at Petco Park than at Dodger Stadium, though.
The Giants begin a three-game series at San Diego on Friday and Belt is in the lineup for the first time since Aug. 6. So is Angel Pagan, who missed all three games of the last series at Arizona because the irritated nerve in his lower back flared up again.
It’s the first time Belt and Pagan have been in the same lineup since May 9, when Belt broke his hand at Los Angeles.
The only absences, then, were Michael Morse and Marco Scutaro. And you might need a pair of asterisks for those two. The Giants haven’t counted on Scutaro in a long time, and although Morse’s strained oblique has improved to the point where he is available off the bench, it appears the club isn’t expecting much from him down the stretch, either.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy lauded Gregor Blanco’s play in left field and his production whenever he starts in the lower third of the order. It appears Blanco will start against right-handers and left-handers down the stretch.
“It’s hard to take him out of there,” Bochy said. “He’s done a great job on both sides.”
Morse’s defensive shortcomings in left field had reared themselves more often in the second half. And his home runs have plummeted from six in April and five in May to two in June, two in July and one in August. It simply isn’t worth the risk to play him in the outfield if he’s not doing damage with the bat. Besides, Morse still qualifies as an imposing power threat off the bench, and sometimes that can impact how an opposing manager plays his matchups in the late innings.
As for first base, it's suddenly crowded with Belt back.
“I hit a couple balls hard enough,” Belt said of his one-day stint in instructional league. “That made me feel good. There are things I need to work on but I’m just happy to get back in the game.”
Said Bochy: “He’s done all his work, all his conditioning. He says he feels comfortable up there with his swing. So we’ll throw him out there and see how it goes.”