Brandon Belt hit “rock bottom” July 22 during a 4-3 extra-inning loss in Philadelphia. He struck out in the top of the 12th with no outs and a runner on second base, dropping his July batting average to .171 (12-for-70, 25 strikeouts).
After the game, Belt acknowledged that he was struggling mentally and manager Bruce Bochy replaced him with Pablo Sandoval at first base the following day.
But Belt turned things around in August and his resurgence is a key reason why the Giants were able to win the National West Division title despite losing Melky Cabrera to a performance-enhancing drug suspension.
“I really had nowhere else to go,” Belt said. “It was either give up and give in or you fight. You have that inner instinct to fight and to battle and that’s what came out.”
The Giants drafted Belt, 24, in the fifth round of the 2009 Major League Baseball draft and he quickly became one of the organization’s top prospects. In 2010, he batted .352 with 23 home runs and 112 RBIs in the minors (Class-A, AA and AAA), drawing comparisons to Buster Posey for how quickly he moved through the organization.
Belt’s transition to the big leagues last season wasn’t nearly as smooth, though. In 187 at-bats, he hit .225, striking out 57 times. But the first baseman found his stroke in June this year producing a .963 OPS in 71 at-bats. The streak came to a halt in early July, however, and quickly morphed into the worst slump of Belt’s short career.
“I started thinking about myself too much,” Belt said. “I had to hit rock bottom to see that.”
Rather than worrying about his dwindling numbers or playing time, Belt decided to approach every trip to the plate with the mindset: how can I help my team?
He also took note of how center fielder Angel Pagan handled his July slump (.210 batting average) and he tried to model his approach.
“When he struggled a little bit it didn’t bother him at all,” he said. “He’d just get in there and work his butt off and he came out of it.”
Two days after he was benched, Belt was called on to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 2-2 game against the San Diego Padres. He fouled off several pitches with two strikes and eventually drew a walk. A couple batters later, he scored the game’s winning run on a line-drive single.
Belt returned to the starting lineup the following night and he doubled. The next day, he went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs. The momentum carried into August where Belt batted .349 with a .411 OBP.
“What benefitted him more than anything was how hard he worked in the cage to make some adjustments with his swing,” Bochy said. “It enabled him to get to some pitches he was having trouble with.”
Belt said he opened up his stance, started standing taller in the box and worked on getting his hands through the zone quicker.
He said the adversity he faced this season only made the experience of winning a division title that much sweeter.
“When you struggle early in the year and you can bring stuff together and contribute, it really makes you feel like part of the team,” he said.
Brandon Belt struggled mightily in July, but persevered, turning things around starting in August.
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