SAN FRANCISCO — After 23 games missed with inflammation in his right knee, Brandon Belt was active for the Giants Tuesday night against the Royals.
Belt’s premonition that he would be activated this series proved true, though he wasn’t in the starting lineup against Kansas City starter Kris Bubic, a left-hander. After missing nearly a month and not going on a rehab assignment, the Giants plan to ease Belt back in, starting with his bench role Tuesday night.
“We’re choosing to introduce him back on the roster,” manager Gabe Kapler said, “because he’s a really valuable bat and defensive replacement at times but also we’re going it this way because we don’t want to throw him right in there and ask him to play nine innings.”
Entering Tuesday, Belt hadn’t played a game since a May 18 loss to the Rockies. Before landing on the injured list, he was hitting .228/.342/.386 (113 wRC+) but had cooled from a torrid start that featured all four of his home runs this season in his first 39 at-bats.
Over the past week, Belt has increased the intensity of his on-field activities, but the deciding factor to activate him Tuesday was more of a mental checkmark.
Kapler said the “number one” reason Belt was deemed ready to rejoin the team Tuesday was his “enthusiasm” the past couple days.
“He’s really turned a corner,” Kapler said. “Turning a corner in your mind and your body isn’t necessarily a surefire way to evaluate but it certainly gives us an added layer of confidence when a player like Brandon is saying I’m at this space now where I feel good about being back on the roster and in the lineup.”
In Belt’s absence, the Giants have leaned on Wilmer Flores and Darin Ruf at first base.
On Tuesday, Ruf made his 10th start — and seventh in a row — at first since Belt landed on the IL. Flores has covered 13 games, including a stretch of 11 of 12 while Ruf was also unavailable.
Flores, 30, has been one of the Giants’ most durable players this season, appearing in 56 of their 61 games after Tuesday. Kapler recently said “one of the more challenging” things facing him is finding a day off for Flores.
“We’re really looking for ways to get Wilmer a blow here and there,” Kapler said. “When we have a guy who’s a little tight, the first guy you want to get in there is Wilmer. It’s a challenge.”
Ruf and Flores will likely be asked to cover first base for at least a little while longer, even with Belt rejoining the roster Tuesday. The players who could be most impacted by Belt’s return, at least initially, are Evan Longoria and Tommy La Stella, who have shared the majority of the designated hitting duties over the past month.
While Belt was available off the bench Tuesday and Kapler said he would be able to remain in the game in the field if necessary, the DH is likely to be a major part of his reintroduction.
“We’re going to probably ease him into this a little bit. It’s been a bit,” Kapler said. “You might see a DH here and there, you might see some innings at first base and us replace him in-game. … Tomorrow, if we want to we can have him DH. Today if we need to and we’re in a tough spot if we have to have him hit and stay in the game, we’re going to be able to do that as well.”
Cobb on track for Pittsburgh start
Everything is lining up for Alex Cobb to rejoin the Giants rotation Sunday in Pittsburgh, the first day he is eligible to be activated from the 15-day injured list.
On Tuesday, Cobb threw 44 pitches in a live BP session at Oracle Park that Kapler said “went well.” That would give him five days of rest before Sunday’s game against the Pirates.
“Velocity was right where it needs to be,” Kapler said. “Threw three pitches for strikes.”
Contributed by local news sources