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MIL@SF: Belt swats three-run homer for an early lead

SAN FRANCISCO -- The evolution of the Giants might have progressed with their 4-1 victory Thursday over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Tim Lincecum continued his transition from power to precision, limiting the Brewers to one hit in eight shutout innings.

Batting cleanup for the first time in his Major League career, first baseman Brandon Belt began building his case to claim the role full-time by drilling a three-run, first-inning homer.

Another of the younger Giants auditioning for a more prominent spot in the offense, shortstop Brandon Crawford, capitalized on his elevation from the lower third of the batting order. Crawford hit second and went 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI.

Overall, the Giants delivered an encouraging performance less than 24 hours after enduring one of their most disheartening ones. In the wake of Wednesday's 6-1 meltdown, when San Francisco squandered Madison Bumgarner's seven scoreless innings, manager Bruce Bochy called a brief meeting to sharpen the players' focus.

"We need to play every game with passion and know that we're going out there for a reason," Lincecum said. "... It's one of those things that needed to be reiterated."

If there's anybody who exudes passion, it's the dynamic Lincecum, who summoned the excellence of his Cy Young Award-winning seasons. Juan Francisco's third-inning leadoff double represented Lincecum's lone lapse, aside from a fifth-inning walk to Jeff Bianchi.

Benefiting more than usual from his curveball, Lincecum (6-11) elicited 18 swings-and-misses, matching his second-highest total of the season. He had 27 in his July 13 no-hitter at San Diego. In fact, the right-hander threw his curveball so vigorously that he developed the hint of a blister on his middle finger, which prevented him from seeking a complete game.

"Really good stuff," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "You could see it from the first batter. Really free with his delivery, his arm. Great arm speed on his offspeed [pitches] today. We hit one ball hard off him and got one hit."

Lincecum earned his first victory since his no-hitter, but that doesn't reflect his improvement. He has made five quality starts in his last six appearances after recording six such outings in his first 17 games.

Asked if he believes that he's re-establishing himself as an elite pitcher, Lincecum said, "I'm not really trying to go about it that way. I'm just trying to stay within myself. I'm know I'm not going to throw a 95-mph fastball anymore, so why try to throw it anymore? Kind of use what I've got and get outs with it. That means throwing better location and buying into that process. However long it might take. It's a long process for me, but I think it's coming around."

Whether the Giants benefit from the finished product remains unknown, given Lincecum's impending free agency. That's a subject he again refused to discuss.

Lincecum has received the worst run support among Giants starters, but that ceased to be an issue after Belt mashed a 1-0 fastball from Brewers right-hander Donovan Hand with one out in the first inning. Leadoff batter Marco Scutaro stroked his first of three hits and Crawford doubled to set up Belt's 12th homer of the season, ending the Giants' 11-game stretch without a long ball at AT&T Park.

"The ball today was exactly where I wanted it. [Belt] just hit it," said Hand, who entered the game having surrendered eight homers in 27 innings spanning five outings.

Scutaro, who emerged from a 2-for-24 skid, lashed a two-out double to prolong the second inning for Crawford, who sliced an opposite-field single to left that ended the Giants' scoring.

Having batted cleanup during his Minor League career, Belt felt comfortable.

"I think that's everybody's goal, to move up in the lineup," said Belt, who has batted sixth in 54 of his 90 starts this year.

Crawford, who has batted second this week while Bochy tinkered with Scutaro and Hunter Pence at leadoff, wouldn't mind rising in the order along with Belt.

"I think he said recently in an interview that we hit well when we hit back-to-back. Two and four would be all right, too," Crawford said.

Bochy has noticed.

"That could be where they end up next year," Bochy said. "I like the way they've been responding."

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