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Giants hope to mimic success from Belt's first absence

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LaMonte Wade, Darin Ruf

SAN FRANCISCO -- On the first day without Brandon Belt, the first person to take throws at first base during batting practice was not LaMonte Wade Jr., Darin Ruf or Wilmer Flores. It was manager Gabe Kapler. 

Kapler moves around during BP and often will spend time at first fielding warm-up throws from his infielders, and on Tuesday he was soon followed by Wade and Ruf. It's those two -- not Kapler, of course -- who will be counted on to take over at first for the time being, and likely an entire postseason run.

Belt, who got hit by a pitch Sunday and sustained a thumb fracture, saw a hand specialist on Tuesday and was placed on the IL shortly before the opener of a six-game homestand. He is expected to miss weeks, and possibly all of October, as The Athletic first reported, which is a brutal blow for the Giants, but not an insurmountable one.

Kapler has plenty of options on his roster, but Wade got the first crack at it Tuesday night and likely will start at first on Wednesday against righty Merrill Kelly. Ruf should come off the IL on Thursday and start against Madison Bumgarner.

"It's disappointing to not have Belt in the lineup and not have his presence for us right now, and that sucks -- we definitely need to call that out," Kapler said. "And then we should probably quickly turn the page and talk about how Brandon was playing really good baseball when he went down in Los Angeles against the Angels (in June) and we were pretty good with how we were able to replace him. 

 

"The players stepped in and just did great. LaMonte Wade Jr. was awesome at first base immediately. It's kind of interesting that we have a fun little mix-and-match group now between Wade and Flores, and Ruf is right around the corner. I think we're going to be able to successfully plug a very difficult hole to fill. We've done it. It's not optimal, but I think we're going to be fine because our players are prepared for it."

Belt hurt his knee running the bases on June 23 and initially the diagnosis was that he could need season-ending surgery. The Giants plugged Wade and Ruf in and didn't miss a beat. Wade has a 1.000 OPS in 26 games at first base this season with nine homers. Ruf, who is currently recovering from a mild oblique strain, has a 1.036 OPS and nine homers in 42 appearances at first base. 

The Giants went 20-14 without Belt in their lineup, embracing a "next man up" mentality, and Kapler kept that focus on Tuesday. But this is still an awful blow for Belt, who will finish the regular season stuck on 29 homers, and the Giants. 

Belt has been one of the best players in the National League since returning and has 18 homers in the second half. While Wade and Ruf were surprisingly nimble defensively at first base, neither is Belt, a perennial Gold Glove candidate. Losing a key bat also slightly limits the moves Kapler can make late in games with pinch-hitters. 

The Giants are a worse team than they were on Sunday, but they weren't down on Tuesday. Players and coaches tried to keep it positive, with several taking the field in captain's hats as a nod to Belt. Kapler said the team will just have to fill this void as it has all season with different injuries. In addition to Wade and Ruf, Flores is also a likely option at first base. Kris Bryant has been discussed internally, as well. 

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Kapler has not had to worry about first base in recent weeks, but he now will play the matchups and try to get a platoon advantage for his options there as he does in the outfield and at second base. The Giants have been winning behind their captain for several weeks, and now they'll try to win enough that Belt can continue to push for a comeback late in the postseason. 

"He's disappointed," Kapler said. "He's gotten to peak performance for Brandon in his career and I don't think it's making any assumptions to suggest that it's also as confident as he has been as a Major League player. There's some projection there -- I haven't had the conversation where I said, 'Brandon, are you more confident now than you have been?' It's just who he's been. 

 

"He's projected that confidence. He's shown us that he feels good about himself and he feels strong mentally. This is going to be another challenge, but he's been here before."

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