Brandon Belt entered Monday night's Pacific Coast League game in Sacramento with four rehabilitation games to build upon. He began play with the San Jose Giants on June 26, facing hitters in a live game for the first time since May 9, when he suffered a broken left thumb after being hit by Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Paul Maholm. With each game, Belt steadily improved, both offensively and defensively, eventually moving from designated hitter to first base on Sunday night in Fresno.
In his second and final start with San Jose, he guaranteed to hit a home run for a 12-year-old cancer survivor — and cleared the fence in the first inning. Since that Babe Ruth moment, Belt has homered twice more, including Monday night in Sacramento.
"I'm definitely no Babe Ruth," Belt said before hitting his third dinger since returning to action.
Belt said facing younger talent in the lower levels has helped him in becoming ready to return to his big league club.
"I didn't face anybody who didn't throw under 94," Belt said. "It was nice because I needed to see something like that. I needed to see somebody who had good stuff and I've been seeing that ever since I've been doing rehab games. So I think that will help me get ready faster."
Arizona Diamondbacks No. 2 ranked prospect Braden Shipley — a 2013 first-round pick — surrendered Belt's lone San Jose home run while Athletics power arm Dan Straily saw his 1-2 pitch clear the right-field fence on Monday night.
Overall, Belt has hits in 10 of his 20 plate appearances over a five-game span, raking five of those 10 for extra bases — good enough for a 1.235 slugging percentage. Belt said before Monday night's contest that he still had some things to work on. He might be completely ready after reaching base four times against the River Cats.
"My timing's just a tad bit off still. I'd like to get that just a little bit better," Belt said. "If they brought me up today, I feel like I would be okay up there. But it's the big leagues, and I want to be better than okay."
As for his thumb, Belt assures it "feels pretty good," in all aspects of the game.
"I'm able to grip a ball just fine," he said. "I don't have to think about it or anything. It just comes naturally now.
"I've been jammed a couple times when I'm hitting and it doesn't bother me then," he said.
With the Giants needing offense badly, having crossed the plate just six times during the team's first four-game sweep in AT&T Park's history and averaging only 2.3 runs over the last 10 games, Belt's current timeline of Friday to join the team in San Diego could be pushed forward considering Belt's play with San Jose and Fresno.
Henry Schulman noted this morning that both Belt and Angel Pagan joining the team as early as today is not out of the question.
Nothing decided, but possibility of Belt and Pagan both returning tonight remains on the table. #sfgiants— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) July 1, 2014
Still, Belt is targeting Friday to suit up with the Giants.
"I could go up there right now and be just fine but there's just a few more things I want to do before I can go back up," he said.