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Belt blasts first homer since return, not enough to sweep Royals

Brandon Belt homered in his third plate appearance since being activated off the injured list, but a two-run error in the opening frame spoiled the party as the Giants lost to the Royals 3-2 Wednesday afternoon at Oracle Park. 

The Giants (35-27) failed to secure their first-ever sweep of the Royals (21-41), a feat unobtainable since interleague play began in 1997. San Francisco also couldn’t match their longest win streak of the season at six games.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.

The Giants defense – in the infield especially – has had its fair share of bumps and bruises this season, including on Wednesday in the first, when usually sure-handed shortstop Brandon Crawford ranged far to his left to field a grounder but it trickled off his wrist and into shallow right field.

Kansas City had runners at second and third with two down, so the inning would have been over had Crawford cleanly fielded the ball. Instead, both runners scored, with Bobby Witt Jr., the runner at second, never stopping on the crack of the bat to give the Royals an early 2-0 lead.

Giants manager Kapler sees no reason to worry about Crawford’s long-term defense:

It’s tough, like you’re not going to make all the plays, and obviously that turned out to be a significant one. But obviously we depend on on Crawford’s stability on defense and expect it every time out. He’s such an excellent defender most of the time, I think that (ball) jumped up on him a little bit. It’s part of the game, it happens, it’s human error.”

Just minutes prior, Crawford had been recognized on the field for playing his 1,500th career game, all with the Giants. He is now one of just five players since the Giants moved west in 1958 to play in that many games for the club. His next game will tie Jim Davenport for fourth all-time in games played for the Giants, only behind Willie McCovey, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds

It’s safe to say those are solid names to be associated with. On the feat, Crawford said:

I was told a little bit before the game, like an hour or two before the game. I mean, it’s a short list of guys that have played that many games with the Giants so definitely a special list to be a part of.”

There was a bright spot with the gloves. Or more appropriately, arms. Right fielder Luis Gonzalez threw out a runner at the plate in the ballgame on Tuesday night and the rookie showed off his cannon again when he threw out Witt Jr. trying to stretch a bloop-single into a two-bagger. The throw was on a line and completed on the other end by Crawford, who unleashed a mesmerizing swipe tag to record the out.

The NL Rookie of the Year consideration is improving each day for Gonzalez, an unknown factor at the beginning of the season. Statistically, he’s been subpar defensively, but has raked with the bat and is competitive with the rest of the leaders in his rookie class. Before the game, Kapler sung his praises, calling him a “throwback player”:

It’s hard not to bet on Luis Gonzalez’s career at this point.”

Belt served as DH Wednesday in his first start since returning from the injured list on Tuesday after missing 23 games with a knee injury. The Giants have been easing him back, which is why he hasn’t right away started at first base. In just his third plate appearance back in the fourth inning, Belt deposited a solo-blast into the visiting bullpen in right-center field off Jonathan Heasley for his fifth homer of the year and first since April 20.

It took a bit longer to return from the injury than expected, but there’s no question Belt was missed in the clubhouse and in the lineup. There was no doubting his readiness, either, there was seemingly no any adjustment period needed for Belt to regain his form. Kapler took note, too:

So I think I heard a couple of comments after that home run, how challenging it is to just stepping in the batter’s box and be a good offensive player. Immediately I saw him get on base, like no time has passed since the last time he stood in the batter’s box – a testament to how much confidence he has. I think more players can do it physically and fewer players can do it mentally. … It’s a mental trick. You’ve done your whole life. There’s been a little bit of a layoff, but physically you’re capable of doing everything you need to do in the batter’s box.”

Belt’s swing cut the Kansas City lead in half to 2-1, but the damage wasn’t finished. Thairo Estrada walked, Crawford singled before Tommy La Stella advanced Estrada to third on a deep flyout to right. Curt Casali was next, contributing a game-tying sacrifice fly to knot the score at 2-2.

Sam Long was called to start for San Francisco, and the left-hander continued his string of strong performances. He last allowed an earned run in the big leagues on May 4 and has fired nine shutout innings since he was recalled on June 7. Another key to Long’s success has been the tempo he creates on the mound. 

In Spring Training, Long worked to significantly speed up his mechanics and boost his rhythm. Inadvertently, he ended up speeding up his time in-between pitches, too. Entering into Wednesday’s game, he averaged 12.7 seconds between pitches with the bases empty. Though it’s a small sample size, it places him among some of the quickest workers in the game. The Cubs Wade Miley averages 11.6 and Brewers lefty Brent Suter is at 12.3. With runners on base, Long is averaging 19.2 seconds between pitches, still below the league average.

Long has emerged as the perfect option to anchor more-frequent bullpen starts for San Francisco. He started a few of them last year, but would only throw around an inning before handing the ball of. Kapler appears to have recently rewarded Long with a longer leash in these starts to consider him a legitimate bulk-innings type – he held the Los Angeles Dodgers scoreless in his three-inning start Saturday. 

Kansas City tacked on another run in the eighth when Whit Merrifield was able to hit a fly ball deep enough for a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2.

Up Next

A much-needed off-day welcomes the Giants on Thursday before they head to the east coast to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates for a three-game series at PNC Park. Zach Thompson (3-4, 4.50 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Pirates. Kapler and the Giants have not yet announced probable starters for the series.

Notes

LaMonte Wade Jr. has been ramping up baseball activity and was seen throwing on the field ahead of Wednesday’s game. San Francisco is optimistic that the outfielder could possibly begin a rehab assignment this weekend as he continues back from left knee inflammation. … Marco Luciano, the highest-ranked prospect in the Giants organization, was placed on the injured list in the minor leagues with a lower back strain. He’ll be shut down for a few weeks as he rehabs in Arizona. Luciano, 20, has an .867 OPS with 8 homers and 17 RBI for High-A Eugene.

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