Belt's patience pays off as breakout showing fuels win

May 7th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- A World Series ring on each hand and a decade-long track record tend to earn a player some patience, and that’s exactly what  has needed with the Blue Jays.

April was painful at times. The game seemed to be moving more quickly than Belt, and despite all of the talent and intangibles that earned him the title of “The Captain” in San Francisco, patience doesn’t last forever on teams trying to win a World Series. Belt knows this as well as anyone.

Saturday’s 8-2 win over the Pirates at PNC Park, which felt even more lopsided than the numbers, finally showed the version of Belt that the Blue Jays envisioned. He’ll never need to be the star of the show on a roster that’s already stacked with so many, but when he plays the role of supporting actor for a night, you see what Toronto had in mind when it signed him to that one-year, $9.3 million deal.

“It’s about the balance, for sure,” said manager John Schneider. “If you can have his consistent approach night in and night out, it rubs off on everyone else a little bit. He’s been doing this for a long time. He’s had that approach his whole career. If he can really lock it in, it will be huge for us.”

Belt started 2-for-2 with two doubles, two walks, two RBIs and three runs scored. Soon after striking out on his fifth trip to the plate, Belt was ejected, capping a day with a little bit of everything.

It’s been a long time coming for the 35-year-old veteran, who took just 21 at-bats in Spring Training. Knee issues have followed Belt for years, dating back to a meniscus surgery in 2015 and another procedure in '18. He underwent an arthroscopic procedure in September of '22, and while it left him feeling healthier and more athletic, there was still a prolonged comeback process.

“I’ve been through this before,” Belt said. “Many times. One thing I’ve learned is that if I try to force some things, it doesn’t work out. It ends up making you worse. I think I tried to force it a little bit. For the most part, I’ve got to get back to simplifying my approach. It’s see ball, hit ball. Don’t make it more complicated than that.”

Until now, Toronto’s roster has been able to carry a struggling Belt. There’s been enough offense to go around and nothing has gone terribly wrong on the injury front, but the left wrist issue that kept  out of Saturday's game showed just how close Belt is to being an everyday player, not just the four-days-a-week bat he’s been so far.

This isn’t just about first base, but it’s also about DH.

Belt has started seven of his 20 games at first base this season, giving Guerrero some valuable days off his feet. But Belt’s primary value is tied to Toronto’s catchers.

started 49 games at DH last season, and if had been healthier, he would have started more than his three in that spot. Kirk, in particular, wore down as the season went on, losing some of his natural power, and the Blue Jays wanted to avoid repeating that in 2023. Signing a primary DH isn’t exactly growing more common in an era when nobody plays just one position, but given Toronto’s roster construction, it made sense to go for Belt.

The bottom half of the order was hot on Saturday, showing what this lineup can look like on the good days. Kirk reached base three times behind Belt, leading to some action on the bases for him, which he welcomed.

“I’m just happy I’ve been able to run. My legs are still fresh, unfortunately,” Belt jokes.

Belt was also quick to credit the teammates and staff for supporting him through a tough month. This goes back to what starter said Friday about the club’s belief in its veterans after  had a big game.

“It’s the same with Belt,” Bassitt said. “I’ve seen that first-hand and I know [Kevin] Gausman has seen it first-hand. We have so much trust in our veteran guys to step up when we need them to step up. They can go two weeks without getting a hit, and I don’t think there’s much thought about it. It’s just like, ‘OK, when is George going to carry us? When is Belt going to carry us?’”

It works better when all nine hitters are sharing the load, and when Belt does his part, everyone else’s job gets a little easier.