MESA, Ariz. – Pablo Sandoval’s bat looked crisp as he collected three hits in his first four exhibition at-bats. But those weren’t the numbers that Giants manager Bruce Bochy wanted to see in the first weekend of games here.
Late last week, Bochy told Sandoval he would bench him if the Panda didn’t tip the scales at a certain weight by Saturday’s Cactus League opener.
“To his credit, he did,” Bochy said. “Although to be honest, I’m not sure how.”
Maybe Sandoval locked himself in a sauna and cranked up the coals. However he did it, it came as a surprise to Bochy, who originally did not list Sandoval among his scheduled regulars on Saturday.
Instead, Sandoval is the only position player to start both of the Giants’ exhibition games in the field.
“I talked to him (on Saturday) and he wants to play,” Bochy said. “He comes in and does his early work. To play five innings, it helps with his conditioning.”
Sandoval just got done playing in the Venezuelan league playoffs three weeks ago, so he’s in better “baseball shape” than most of his teammates. He also wants to make sure he’s ready when he leaves for the World Baseball Classic next week.
Although Bochy wouldn’t divulge any specific numbers, it’s believed that Sandoval is heavier than at any time since the end of the 2010 season, when his weight problem contributed to losing his job in the postseason. It was a wakeup call that compelled him to reshape his body that winter.
Sandoval might not be in the same condition he was when he reported in 2011, but Bochy didn’t describe him as if he’s in need of another wakeup call.
“He’s doing what I asked,” Bochy said.
Even though Matt Cain threw a lot of pitches in the first inning, Bochy said he would have sent his opening-day starter back out there if not for the line drive off the side of his right knee.
[BAGGARLY: Cain gets a scare with line drive off knee]
“We were a little concerned the knee might start swelling,” Bochy said. “We’re being a little cautious with him. It’s a long spring.”
Everyone knows what kind of an arm Nate Schierholtz has in right field. Well, outfield prospect Francisco Peguero’s arm is even better, by reputation.
Peguero showed off that arm during infield drills. And like any quick-draw artist, he showed he’s not afraid of the next gun.
When Peguero hit a looping drive down the right field line in Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Cubs, he didn’t hesitate while rounding first base. Peguero was able to hustle a double out of it.
Not even Schierholtz, the right fielder, could throw him out.
A cold wind chapped everyone’s skin all day, and it was no coincidence that the Giants and Cubs both decided to conduct pop-up drills for the first time this spring. The wind is known to blow at AT&T Park and Wrigley Field, after all.
When the game began, outfield prospect Gary Brown made two especially impressive catches. He stayed with the gusting wind and covered a lot of ground while making one catch in right-center. Then he sprinted straight back and didn’t get turned around while hauling in another deep drive.
“He’s a gifted outfielder with good speed and he gets good reads on the ball,” Bochy said. “It’s impressive. He’s a young guy who doesn’t know this outfield, the wind and the sun here, and he made all the plays.”
Actually, Brown played at HoHoKam Park plenty of times in the Arizona Fall League and he knew “that Mesa is the absolute worst with the wind and sun breaking through the clouds.”
Told of Bochy’s comment, Brown’s eyes got wide.
“Maybe it’d be better if you forget what I just told you,” he said, smiling.
Angel Villalona got his first start in a Giants uniform and collected his first hit, a single to left field off Kyuji Fujikawa. Villalona likely will be among the first rounds of cuts, and while you have to wonder whether the Giants are giving him a serious look, he’s still just 22 years old. He’s a prospect.
Bob Brenly’s kid, Michael, is in Cubs camp and played in Sunday’s game. He’s got some size on the old man.
Dan Runzler continues to look very good. I also like what I see from Kensuke Tanaka thus far, but I think it’ll be hard for him to make the team over Wilson Valdez or Tony Abreu if he can’t play shortstop.
The ol’ Twitter stream filled up with NASCAR references as the Daytona 500 reached its conclusion, and as I watched the Giants and Cubs, a thought occurred to me: The goal of NASCAR and baseball is the same – make as many left turns as you can, as quickly as possible.
The talented Billy Byler, beat reporter who covers the Giants’ A-ball affiliate in Augusta, added one more thought: “And draft to your advantage.”