AT&T PARK — San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt will likely miss up to the next three weeks after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Friday night, manager Bruce Bochy said on Saturday.
Belt, who had hit .314 in the month of May, exited Friday night’s game in the second inning after abdominal discomfort he had felt before the game intensified. He was rushed to a local hospital, where his appendix was removed.
“I think he just got released,” Bochy said on Saturday afternoon. “It all went well, and I think he was just released from the hospital.”
Belt had hit five home runs and driven in 17 runs, with a .921 OPS and a .385 batting average on balls in play during the month of May, so losing his bat just as the Giants got Joe Panik back in the lineup for the first time in six weeks — along with Mac Williamson — is a particularly keen cut.
“You’re talking about one of the most proficient hitters in baseball at this point,” Bochy said. “You look at the OPS and everything, on-base, all of that. What’s disappointing is, you get Joe Panik back and for one inning we had our club out there. Now, we’ve lost Belt. That’s disappointing.
The three-week down time is typical for the procedure, though recovery could take a bit longer or a bit shorter. In the meantime, Belt has been placed on the disabled list, and middle infielder Alen Hanson has been recalled.
In Belt’s absence, the Giants will play Sandoval at first against right-handed pitchers, and move Buster Posey to first against lefties, allowing Nick Hundley to catch.
“The silver lining is that Pablo’s here to help out,” Bochy said. “He’s been doing a good job in his role, and this is part of his role, if something happens at first base or third base, he would be ready to step in.”
Posey is currently day-to-day with a left elbow contusion, after taking a pitch there in the fourth inning Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies. He is available to pinch hit, and will likely start on Sunday.
Hanson’s return solves a backup shortstop conundrum that could have seen Pablo Sandoval serve as Brandon Crawford’s backup.
Bochy, for one, is happy he won’t have to test Sandoval at short any time soon, though he did take grounders there on Friday.
“I thought he was Gold Glove-caliber,” Bochy said, facetiously. “I’ll say this, he was into it. You don’t know if it’s going to happen; you just have to prepare for it. The only thing I’ve said, is whether at second or short, he’s got pretty good hands, he’s got a good arm, he’s got good instincts for the game. If he can make the routine play, then you’re OK.”
Hanson will get “a lot of work” at shortstop, Bochy said.
Hunter Pence was back in the clubhouse after being activated on Saturday, and will serve as San Francisco’s fourth outfielder, serving an advisory role for the everyday players.
“I’m trying to be on top of anything I can notice,” Pence said. “I’m trying to look for things that you can pick up on pitchers, whatever the case may be. There’s a lot of places your focus needs to be, and so I’m going to put that hat on and come with it, find that rhythm of getting ready for a pinch hit at-bat.”
It’s an unusual role for the 12-year veteran, who’s won two World Series with the Giants.
“This guy’s unique, he’s special,” Bochy said. “In his outlook on life, the way he carries himself, he’s such a positive guy. He says, ‘I’m going to be the best whatever I can do to help this ballclub,’ if it’s come off the bench, or double switch or the occasional start. That’s who he is, and that’s what makes him special. That’s been him, since I’ve known him. Granted, he’s played every day, so he hasn’t been in this kind situation, but he looks at it as a challenge, and not a setback.”
Pence missed 40 games with a right thumb sprain, an injury he suffered on April 3 while diving for a ball. At the time, he was batting .172 (10-for-58) with one extra-base hit in 17 games. When he got healthy, he spent 25 games with Sacramento, and re-engineered his swing. He hit .301 (31-for-103) with 13 RBI for the River Cats.
In a corresponding move to Pence’s activation, the Giants designated Gregor Blanco for assignment. He has cleared waivers, and will be outrighted to Triple-A Sacramento on Sunday. He will report to the River Cats on Tuesday.
The Giants now have five outfielders, and Bochy said that he would likely use Pence and Austin Jackson as late-inning defensive replacements for Mac Williamson.
“We’re definitely going to miss the energy that Blanco brings every day,” Pence said. “He’s an amazing guy.”
Blanco had been hitting .242, but was hitting .156 in his last 15 games.
“He’s somebody that we definitely want to keep here, get him playing and find some at-bats for him so he can get his timing,” Bochy said.
Reliever Mark Melancon — activated on Friday — should get into a game soon.
“I’d like to,” Bochy said. “He was getting close last night. I’ll get him in there as soon as I can.”
The one-time closer won’t be eased back in.
“It can be a close game, but the area of the game is going to be a little different than what he’s used to,” Bochy said. “We’ve talked about it. It could be the ninth or the sixth inning, it could be a one-run game and I’d put him out there — tie game, close game, whatever.”
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