If Giants manager Bruce Bochy wants to extend his team’s season beyond the 34 regular-season games remaining, he needs to remind himself that he should play his best players, not those making the most money.
And that should start with Brandon Belt, who absolutely should be in the lineup every day, either at first base or left field.
In the second half of last year, Bochy followed that formula. Aaron Rowand was making $12 million a year, but Andres Torres, making a fraction of that, played center field because he was having a much better season. Edgar Renteria was making $12 million a year, but Juan Uribe was playing better in the field and getting clutch hits, so he played. Barry Zito was the $18 million mistake and he was pushed to No. 5 in the rotation and left off the postseason roster.
Using their best players, the Giants won the division and, ultimately, the World Series.
This year, Belt has been the odd man out, being optioned to Fresno a couple times. Now, though, it’s time to keep him in the lineup.
His batting average, which had fallen well below .200 earlier, has been rising steadily since he came back the most recent time. He is hitting for power. With his three-run blast in Houston on Sunday, he has five homers in his first 100 at-bats. Only Pablo Sandoval, 15 in 323 at-bats, has a ratio close to that among Giants hitters who have been here all season.
When I spoke to Bochy after Belt had been sent down the most recent time, he said he felt it was important to go with the experienced player, Aubrey Huff, at first base. But if it wasn’t obvious before, it certainly is now that Huff’s 2010 season was a mirage, probably a result of his playing in the National League for the first time and the league’s pitchers not being familiar with him.
The Giants got Huff cheaply before last season because nobody else wanted him, thinking his career was trending down and would soon be over. That downward trend has resumed this year. He has been below .250 almost all year and has hit just 12 home runs in 451 at-bats. Though he’s been hitting in the middle of the lineup all season, he has just 54 RBIs.
When Carlos Beltran returns, possibly today, the Giants’ best lineup includes Beltran in right, Cody Ross in center, Nate Schierholtz in left and Belt at first.
The Giants should also use Orlando Cabrera at short, not Miguel Tejada, who has had a great career and has a higher salary but no longer has much range in the field.
If Bochy wants to give Huff an occasional start, Belt could play left. But he should be in the lineup every day. He is that rarity for the Giants, a good young hitter who is only going to get better.
Another rarity: He swings at good pitches, instead of just hacking, as Giants hitters have been doing for what seems like forever.
It’s going to be difficult for the Giants to get back to the postseason. Bochy shouldn’t make it impossible by not playing his best.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.