By Ben Leonard
SAN FRANCISCO—It won’t save a lost season, but the Giants won’t have to wait long for Brandon Belt to return.
After being a late scratch from the lineup Sunday with a sprained wrist, the first baseman will avoid a stint on the disabled list, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Monday. Rookie Jae-Gyun Hwang will still start at first in place of Belt Monday, but Belt should be back starting Tuesday and is available off the bench for Monday’s contest against the Cleveland Indians.
A third baseman by trade, Hwang took reps at the hot corner in spring training and started 28 games in his lone season in the minor leagues this year at Triple-A Sacramento. A former slugging star in Korea, Hwang has hit just .182 in 36 plate appearances, but Bochy said he is confident in Hwang.
“He’s ready to go [and play first],” Bochy said. “You look at the numbers, and you think they’re not great, but he’s been having great at-bats. He’s very well-prepared when he goes up there. He studies all these guys and probably knows as much as any of us about them. He may look bad on one pitch, but you don’t see it twice in one at-bat.”
In the minor leagues, San Francisco has been experimenting with another third baseman manning first base—Ryder Jones. The Giants’ 2013 second-round pick took grounder with Hwang Monday afternoon and will begin a rehab assignment at Triple-A Sacramento Tuesday. In his first cup of tea at the big league level, Jones reached base just twice in 23 plate appearances but posted a .944 OPS in 53 games with Sacramento this season.
Jones has played mostly third base and some left field in his career, but Bochy said he likes to keep his players versatile to improve his team’s depth and flexibility. Having Jones or Hwang playing well at first could give Bochy flexibility to move Belt to left when he returns—or have an adequate option if Belt ever misses time.
The Giants have been desperate for answers at third base this season, getting the worst overall offensive value in the big leagues at the position. Splitting time between the infield and outfield, Eduardo Núñez has played just 41 games at the hot corner, and San Francisco has used seven third baseman this year. With the Giants already 29 games behind the first-place Dodgers, Núñez, whose deal expires after this season, could be dealt before the August 1 trade deadline, which would leave an opportunity for someone to take control of the position.
Cover image: San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt is greeted in the dugout after scoring during the fourth inning of the team’s baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Wednesday, July 5, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)