SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The most talked-about grip change on the Giants last season took place during a batting practice session, when Brandon Belt tweaked the way he holds the bat, added a couple of other minor fixes and started hitting everything in sight.
Two lockers down, shortstop Brandon Crawford underwent a lesser-known change in 2013, one initiated by injury, not ineffectiveness.
The results weren't nearly as prolific for this Brandon. After spraining his right index and middle fingers June 18, Crawford spent a few weeks swinging with the index finger in the air, rather than curled around the bat. Like Marco Scutaro, Crawford soon started having issues with the middle finger, which was overcompensating.
When he jammed his hand, Crawford was hitting .288 with a .351 on-base percentage and .424 slugging percentage. From then on: .211/.273/.305.
As his numbers plummeted, Crawford never pointed to the injury, even as he strapped a guard over his fingers as protection when he ran the bases. But he acknowledges now that he probably returned to the field too quickly. With the Giants still in the race, Crawford pinch-ran the day after the injury and then missed just two games.
"If I had given it a little more rest, it might not have hurt the rest of the season," Crawford said. "It bothered me the whole season after that."
The subtle alteration became a big issue for a player who already fights a mechanical bug. When Crawford is right -- like last April, when he hit five homers in his first 24 games -- he is short to the ball. But he has a tendency to "drift in the box," hitting coach Hensley Meulens said, leading to weak flares and strikeouts during slumps.
"We need to see if he can maintain that swing consistency," Meulens said. "He drifts, and that's one of the things that caused him to be late on some fastballs or miss breaking balls."
The issue has plagued Crawford for years, even sometimes when he puts up good numbers. "I've always had that problem, and I'm sure it's something I'll battle my whole career," Crawford said. "A lot of work in the cage is the only way to fix it."
The organization is confident he'll figure it out.
"Brandon is one of the smartest kids I've ever been around," said Triple-A hitting coach Andy Skeels, Crawford's manager in San Jose. "I always thought he was going to be a big leaguer, and I still think he's capable of more."
The rest of the organization does too, in part because Crawford has never spent much time with Skeels or any other minor league manager. A number of factors led to Crawford's never playing a full season at one minor league stop and getting only 107 at-bats in Triple-A.
Now two months past his 27th birthday, Crawford already has settled into the life of a big league veteran. He has a World Series ring, enough defensive highlights to fill movie night at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home and a second daughter due Saturday.
But in baseball terms, Crawford is still a relative neophyte, and that excites the Giants.
Injuries and the occasional growing pains have limited Crawford to just over 2,100 at-bats as a professional, about the number the Giants hope to see from their top prospects in the minor leagues alone.
"This guy has been learning on the job, so to speak," Meulens said. "He didn't get to work out those kinks in the minor leagues. We needed a shortstop (in 2011), and he found himself in the big leagues early.
"They're valuable at-bats that he's gotten, while winning a World Series and competing at a high level. But he can still grow a lot."
"Even some of the pitches they were hitting are where I want them to be," he said. "I'm just commanding the zone a little better. Pitches are getting away from me here and there, but I'm fixing the problem."
Hunter Pence and Mark Minicozzi homered for the Giants in a 5-0 win.
"If you ask me at the end of next week and he's not playing or close to playing, we'll have to have another plan here," Bochy said.