ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Brandon Belt didn't start a game in Philadelphia earlier this week, ostensibly because he needed a mental break after a rough homestand. But Belt's time off did more than just clear his head. It also cleaned up his swing.
The young first baseman made a couple of small mechanical adjustments this week and saw instant rewards. Belt came up a double short of the cycle Friday night, leading the Giants to a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
"There were just some things I needed to work on to tap into my ability more," Belt said. "You don't know how long it's going to take, but I found a comfort zone."
A slew of young Giants looked comfortable on the turf at Tropicana Field. Madison Bumgarner pitched seven dominant innings, and Brandon Crawford added a two-run homer that put the game out of reach. Both of those players have had ups and downs in their short careers, but nothing like the sort Belt has dealt with. He had just one hit in the final six games of the last homestand, prompting the changes.
"There's always some nudging (from the coaching staff)," Belt said. "But sometimes it takes a few at-bats like I had to get you to make that commitment."
The tweaks that Belt -- with the help of hitting coaches Hensley Meulens and Joe Lefebvre -- made were relatively simple. Belt moved back a bit in the box and said that allows him to see the ball longer. He also slightly changed his grip on the bat, keeping his hand from "wrapping" around the barrel during his swing.
"That relaxes me a little more," he said. "The looser grip on the bat allows it to stay in the zone longer."
Belt singled in his first at-bat Friday and then crushed two-out homer in the fifth to tie the game at 1-all. It was the 11th homer of the season for Belt and the first allowed by Rays starter Chris Archer in nearly a month.
With Hunter Pence on first base in the seventh, Belt smoked a triple to the left-center field gap to put the Giants up 2-1.
"He looked great," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He was all-in on trying to make a couple of adjustments. He's been working hard on it in the cage. I just like the path of his swing right now."
Crawford followed with a two-run homer, his second in three days after a run of 259 at-bats without a home run.
"My swing feels back to how it did early in the season," he said. "In June and July, coming off (a hand injury), I kind of felt that I was feeling for my swing. I couldn't find it. I feel like it's back to where it was."
The contributions from the young Brandons lengthened a lineup that became just the second this season to score more than three earned runs against Archer. The 24-year-old had given up just three total earned runs in his five previous starts.
Bumgarner bested his fellow North Carolina native by striking out 11 over seven innings despite struggling with his command at times.
"It makes it tougher when you're battling the whole time," he said. "But I feel good about it. You're going to have games like that. I don't think it would have been the same result (a year ago), but I've improved a lot and I've learned a lot."
Belt is striving to follow the same path, and he downplayed his big night by saying repeatedly that he needed to do this more than once. The three-hit night likely will not get Belt back in the lineup Saturday, as Bochy said Brett Pill likely would start against dominant left-hander David Price, the reigning Cy Young Award winner. Pill was 7 for 13 with a homer while starting in place of Belt in Philadelphia, and Belt acknowledged that the timeshare has spurred him this week.
"It's just about being competitive," he said. "Just being an athlete and competitor, you want to be out there as much as possible. Sometimes you look back and say, 'Hey, (the changes) worked out.' I hope this is one of those times."
"Sometimes it's just time for a change," Bochy said. "You get in a rut. How long this is going to be, I can't tell you. But it was time to mix it up."
Zito said he went into Bochy's office after his rough start Tuesday and acknowledged that he was hurting the bullpen by having so many short outings. Asked if he thought he had made his final start as a Giant, Zito said he couldn't look that far ahead.
Giants (Tim Lincecum 5-11) at Tampa Bay (David Price 6-5), 4:10 p.m. CSNBA