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Belt looks to give opponents another beard to fear

Giants first baseman heads into Spring Training with momentum and new look

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants hope that Brandon Belt's progress as a hitter will parallel his growing expertise with facial hair.

Belt showed up for last weekend's FanFest with a thick, yet neatly trimmed beard. It was not merely an offseason affectation.

"I'm probably going to keep it," said Belt, 25. "I think I received just enough compliments on it to make me want to keep it. I'm actually going for the 'grown adult man' look."

Belt's beard isn't his only apparent sign of maturity. The first baseman's performance in last season's final months indicated that he had begun to jell as a ballplayer. He hit .346 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs after Aug. 1 to finish with a .289 batting average and a career-high 39 doubles, 17 homers and 67 RBIs.

Belt's surge crested at Los Angeles on Sept. 14, when he became the first player in franchise history to amass five hits, six RBIs and four runs scored in one game as the Giants recorded a 19-3 triumph.

"You have to love his growth as a player last year," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "You're hoping he can carry that into this year."

If Belt succeeds, he'll become the latest Giants player to excel in tonsorial matters as well as baseball endeavors. Current closer Sergio Romo and former closer Brian Wilson ascended to All-Star status as their beards lengthened.

Belt started to thrive last year after changing his grip on the bat and moving deeper in the batter's box. Having implemented those changes, he believes he can sustain last year's season-ending productivity throughout 2014.

"This year, I want to be more consistent," Belt said.

Belt has added another subtle, yet significant adjustment. He's trying to maintain better balance in his stance as he awaits each pitch.

"The better you keep your balance, the better chance you have of seeing the ball," he said.

Some added muscle always helps, too. So Giants strength and conditioning coach Carl Kochan visited Belt at his Nacogdoches, Texas, home and tailored the his training regimen, from intensifying Belt's exercise routine to upgrading his diet.

"I pushed myself a little harder to see where I could get to," Belt said.

Belt's destination could be anywhere when the subject is San Francisco's batting order. He hit everywhere from the third through eighth spots last year, occupying the third (43 games) and sixth (54) positions most often. This made sense. Belt's gifted enough as an all-around hitter to bat third if Bochy needs him there, but the combined presence of Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence often would push Belt down to sixth.

This season might be no different. But that doesn't matter to Belt. Wherever he hits, he intends to keep his swing razor sharp.

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.

San Francisco Giants, Brandon Belt