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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Baseball gods give Belt a little break

Baseball gods must have deemed that Brandon Belt could sink no further Tuesday night.

The rookie first baseman had just flubbed a Little League bouncer that he should have played into an out with a play at home but instead extended the Dodgers' three-run fourth-inning rally by a run and an out.

Just moments earlier, in the bottom of the third inning, Belt struck out into a double play, wasting a leadoff single by Miguel Tejada. Not sure what Bruce Bochy was thinking, other than hoping to stay away from a double play ground ball or trying to force Belt to make contact. But, given the number of swing-throughs for the kid, maybe you do that with less than two strikes.

He had hit a 3-for-31 nadir, and the only way out seemed to be a bus ticket to Fresno.

And, in the fifth, when Belt fell behind 1-and-2 to Chad Billingsley, there was about as little expectation for Belt to come through as there is for the Ball Dude down the left field line to make a diving foul-ball stop.

At least he'd made contact on the first two strikes, fouling them both off. Hey, you take progress where you can take it. And then a thing of magic: A little looper, off the label of the bat, was placed just beyond the reach of shortstop Jamey Carroll and in front of the onrushing left fielder Marcus Thames. I didn't say it was a thing of beauty. But it was beautiful to Belt, who could finally stand on first base, who hadn't so much as sniffed that bag with even a fielder's choice during his sub-.100 slump.

And it wasn't just a single to free the prisonors. It started a rally that would give the Giants a 4-3 lead. Belt was eventually bunted over to second and scored on Aaron Rowand's RBI single. When he returned to the bench, Belt was greeted as if a warrior who'd come in from the cold, though some of the high fives he received appeared to be less congratulatory than, an 'ok, maybe this will get you going.'

The thing about Belt's slump is that for the most part, Belt has looked overmatched by Big League pitching. Not only has he fallen prey to the slider in, but the fastball straight down the middle. He hasn't been in a patch of bad luck; he's just been plain bad.

But, that may have little to do with talent. With every pop out and strikeout, Belt seemed to have lost that sense of belonging that he'd created in spring training. Even Willie Mays, who had his own awful start in 1951, questioned whether he belonged and even begged Leo Durocher to send him back to Minneapolis. It's one thing to go through a slump as a rookie, and quite another to start out your entire major league career in a slump. It's tough to feel like you belong when you haven't had any success at all.

Still, that little single, not much to boast about in terms of pure baseball brawn, may have released the confidence hounds for Belt, who, in his next at bat in the sixth, walked and stole second. To watch him run the bases with his long loping strides reminds you of the potential to be tapped: can you imagine a guy who hits .300, hits for power and has the ability to steal bases?

Ah, the titillations of promise. Belt's next at bat, he grounded out to second. Back to worrying about the next 30 at bats.

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