The San Francisco Giants just took their first big loss of the season, as first baseman Brandon Belt suffered a broken left thumb on a hit-by-pitch by Dodgers starter Paul Maholm. Though Belt initially shook off the injury, which occurred in the second inning of Friday night's 3-1 win at Los Angeles, he was pulled from the game after the end of the inning. X-rays taken afterward revealed a fracture; after the game, Giants manager Bruce Bochy told reporters he expects to be without Belt for around six weeks.
The injury is terrible timing for Belt, who was experiencing a breakout season for San Francisco. Despite a recent slump, the 26-year-old had already slugged nine homers in his first 129 at-bats, putting him well on pace to top his career high of 17, set last season. Belt's .312 OBP is nothing to write home about, but his 134 OPS+ was tied for the third-highest mark on the team with centerfielder Angel Pagan, and his nine homers were tops on the Giants, just ahead of leftfielder Mike Morse (eight).
Belt's offense had dipped in recent weeks: In his last 14 games, he'd managed just nine hits in 47 at-bats and had struck out 18 times to only four walks. Nonetheless, he was still hitting for power, with five of those nine hits going for extra bases, and with a .231 batting average on balls in play in that stretch, it's likely he was running into some bad luck. He'd also shown signs of snapping out of the slump in the last week, picking up six hits in his last four games, including a homer and a double.
With Belt sidelined, the Giants will likely turn to a combination of Morse and Buster Posey to take over at first base, though Joaquin Arias, who replaced Belt at first on Friday, could also see time there. Playing Morse at first would allow the Giants to remove his less-than-stellar glove from leftfield while keeping his bat in the lineup, but that would also lead to a full-time role for Gregor Blanco, who has just four hits in 38 at-bats this season. Though Blanco did slash a respectable .265/.341/.350 last season in 511 plate appearances and has a career OBP of .344 in six seasons, his lack of power would thin out a Giants lineup that trails only Colorado in homers in the NL. The minor leagues don't offer the Giants much succor, either. Travis Ishikawa, late of the Pirates and a 2002 San Francisco draft pick, will likely be called up from Triple-A, but he's unlikely to make much of any impact. Belt's absence will also put more pressure on two underperforming Giants to find their power strokes. So far this season, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval have combined for a measly three homers and 15 RBI, and Sandoval's .283 slugging percentage is the ninth-worst in baseball among all qualified hitters. Even if you added that figure to Pence's .380 mark, you'd still be almost 100 points shy of Troy Tulowitzki's slugging percentage this year. Belt, Morse and Posey have done the heavy lifting for the Giants so far, boosted by a surprising show of power from second baseman Brandon Hicks. But with Belt now sidelined and a lesser player sucking up his at-bats, it'll be on Sandoval and Pence to pick up the slack going forward.