Brandon Belt not concerned with 2020 homer total

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Major League Baseball’s recent home-run surge has been dubbed the fly-ball revolution. But as the sport returns from its unexpected COVID-19 hiatus, Giants first baseman Brandon Belt is aiming to go against the sports’ new grain.

“My main goal is just getting the ball down and hitting line drives,” Belt, who is coming off of his two worst slugging years as a big-league hitter, said in a Zoom call with the media Sunday.

It’s something he said he was working on in the first preseason of the year — Spring Training — and continued working on in Texas during the break. Overall, it’s an effort to double-down on what he’s good at hitting — doubles and triples — and avoid the perils of his home ballpark, Oracle Park.

“Because of this ballpark, comparing it to a different one, maybe somewhere on the East Coast, [where] the ball travels a little bit better, you don’t want to get the ball too high in the air because it is detrimental to your stats and what your goals are,” Belt said. “My goal is to stay gap to gap and to drive the ball. That doesn’t always equate to home runs, but…I’m not too concerned with the whole home run thing.”

Playing half his games in a park notoriously difficult for left-handed hitters not named Barry Bonds, Belt is yet to hit 20 homers in a season his nine-year Giants career. If his new approach takes, this shortened season will not break that streak.

That said, despite the thick marine layer often present in the air during night games, Oracle Park’s new dimensions are expected to increase the home-run rate hit this season. The new bullpens have brought the center-field fence between six and eight feet closer to home plate.

Belt said that he hasn’t noticed the new dimensions in the park — a testament to the quality of the Giants’ retrofitting — but manager Gabe Kapler did.

“I think like one of the most, one of the most exciting parts of our day today was watching the young players, the kids, this morning on the field,” Kapler said. “[Heliot] Ramos comes to mind, [he’s] as strong as anybody. Pat Bailey, Joey Bart, [Marco] Luciano, [Luis] Toribio — these guys were out here crushing this morning, and this is ballpark was playing kind of like a normal hitters park… a middle of the road park.”

“I did notice some balls go out to center and right-center that might otherwise have been landing on the track. It was fun to watch.”

Health is another factor that could help Belt this season. The former Texas Longhorn had knee surgery after the 2018 season, but that didn’t prevent the knee from inflaming last season.

Belt says the knee is feeling good now, and playing 60, as opposed to a 162-game schedule, should help with that.

“I came into this spring training feeling really good,” Belt said. “I felt healthy for the first time in a couple of years. And approach wise, mentally, I feel like I’m in a great place.”