Refreshed Aubrey Huff hits first homer of the spring

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Aubrey Huff hit his first home run of the spring Monday night, which could be a hopeful sign as he tries to turn around a forgettable run in 2011.

Then again, Huff led the team with six homers last spring. That total was tied for most in the Cactus League, too. So choose your talismans carefully.

It’s more about the feeling than the result for Huff, and he says he’s feeling much more refreshed -- especially between the ears.

“Yeah, I feel great,” he told me. “Just let last year go and come out and try to have some fun again. Up there, I feel comfortable and relaxed. It’s spring training, but the goal is to bring that feeling into the season.”

Last year, Huff was the Giants’ only starting position player to remain healthy all season. Hard to believe, but he was the only Giant to post enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.

Not that he finished anywhere close.

Huff’s average fell from .290 to .246. His on-base percentage plummeted even steeper as he drew barely half as many walks as the previous season. In 2010, his .385 OBP was the 10th best in the NL. Last season, his .306 OBP ranked as the eighth worst.

He was swinging at everything, and not to any positive effect.

“I wasn’t getting into a loading position,” Huff said. “My first movement was forward. I’ve been working on getting a nice load back. For some reason, I lost it.

“By midseason, I was making so many changes. It’s hard to get your front foot down when you’re doing all that in the middle of a season. I’m trying to work through that this spring, and so far, it’s working out.”

Huff's bat is looking quick so far. On Sunday, he hit what went down as a single in the box score -- but only because his line drive off the base of the right field wall was hit so hard.

Huff is off to a good start in his competition with Brandon Belt and Brett Pill, both of whom will get plenty of innings this spring to show their readiness.

In three games, Huff and Belt have started in the same lineup twice. Both times, Huff was at first base. Belt was either the designated hitter or played left field. Manager Bruce Bochy cautioned not to read anything into that, saying Huff will play plenty of left field this spring, too.

(Belt is swinging it well, too. He hit a shot Monday night that died in the cooler air and was tracked down by Milwaukee center fielder Jordan Schafer after a long sprint. The ball likely would've been halfway up the berm in the daytime.)

But while unspoken, it's clear the first base position is Huff’s to lose.

“Aubrey is part of this,” Bochy said earlier this spring. “We need him.”

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