The San Francisco Giants expect to have Brandon Belt back in the starting lineup Wednesday afternoon when they go for a three-game series sweep of the visiting Kansas City Royals.
After missing 23 games with inflammation in his right knee, Belt was activated off the injured list Tuesday in time to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of a game the Giants led just 3-2.
The veteran first baseman got hit by a pitch, loading the bases, and Tommy La Stella followed with a sacrifice fly that plated an insurance run in what turned into a 4-2 victory.
“Today was perfect,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said of Belt’s return. “Obviously, we didn’t want him to get hit by a pitch, but we were glad he reached base. That inning (which featured no hits) worked out like we had hoped it would work out.”
One reason Belt wasn’t rushed into the starting lineup on Tuesday was that the Royals were starting a left-handed pitcher, Kris Bubic. Kapler started right-handed-hitting Darin Ruf, who contributed an RBI single to a three-run sixth inning that was critical in the team’s fifth straight win.
If Belt, as expected, is penciled into Kapler’s starting lineup for the series finale, it would be against Jonathan Heasley (1-3, 3.62). The Royals right-hander will be facing the Giants for the first time in his career.
Belt has never batted against Heasley, who has made just nine major league starts the last two seasons and continues to search for his first road win, having gone 0-1 with a 3.20 ERA in four starts away from Kansas City.
Heasley is coming off the best game of his career, having shut out the Baltimore Orioles on one hit over seven innings in an 8-1 home win on Friday. He struck out seven without issuing a walk.
Kapler indicated he has other options for easing Belt back into the lineup aside from first base.
“You might see him DH here and there, you might see some innings at first base, and we may replace him in-game,” the manager said. “Part of that is to just kind of give him more of a buildup without having to have a full-on rehab assignment.”
Kapler indicated he likely would use the series finale as a “bullpen day,” with Sam Long (0-1, 1.96 ERA) serving as the opener. The left-hander has made four starts among his 12 outings this season, lasting a total of seven innings in those games while allowing seven hits and just one run.
His lone loss came when he gave up a first-inning run in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the visiting Oakland Athletics on April 27.
Long likely will see the Royals in their new infield alignment, one they debuted Tuesday with Whit Merrifield at second base, Bobby Witt Jr. at shortstop and Nicky Lopez at third.
With Witt, one of the top prospects in baseball, having settled into shortstop, the Royals have been looking for a spot at which to plant Lopez. He went 2-for-4 on Tuesday while starting at third base for the first time in his four-year major league career.
“Anytime you get on the baseball field, it’s exciting,” said Lopez, who has started 37 games at second base and 16 at shortstop this season. “Obviously, I wasn’t really expecting (the move to third), but it’s a chance to play. So I guess whatever they need me to do.”
Lopez had played third base a total of just three innings in his big-league career before Tuesday’s complete-game effort.
–Field Level Media