|Photo by SD Dirk via Flickr Creative Commons|
After winning the World Series in 2012, the Giants suffered their first losing season in five years, with a 76-86 record. Part of that was because of injury, but poor offseason conditioning was a factor too.
Fans could point fingers at Sandoval's weight gain or Buster Posey's breakdown in the second half, but the Giants learned from their mistakes last season and have hit the gym for 2014.
Perhaps the most anticipated player coming into camp was Pablo Sandoval. Would he be able to take his physical shape seriously heading into a contract year?
After the Tweets showing his new-and-improved body, the Giants saw the slimmer, quicker Panda firsthand when he reported to Scottsdale earlier this week.
Enfocado en esta misión y dia a dia dandolo todo -I'm on a Mission-work hard play harder @UnderArmour @Mik3Sand0vAl pic.twitter.com/zuI610DGC3
— KFP48 (@KFP48) December 9, 2013
According to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury, Sandoval weighed in at about 250 pounds Tuesday, an estimated 30 pounds less than the end of last season.
“He looked good – real good,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s moving quicker. The first-step quickness, there’s a significant difference, I think.”
He had spent the winter in his native Venezuela, where he had packed on the pounds in seasons past.
But Sandoval did not pig out on home-cooked meals this time. Instead, he was staying in game shape by playing in the Venezuelan Winter Leagues and eating healthy meals prepared by a professional cook--his brother Luis.
The reward for his hard work could be a more dynamic player, which could lead to a bigger contract and more playing time.
If the weight loss leads to improved range at third base, there may not be a need for a late-inning defensive replacement. Sandoval hopes that is the case.
"I'm preparing in my mind to play nine innings," he told Pavlovic. "For 162 games."
An enigma last season was Buster Posey's second half. After the All-Star break, Posey hit just .244 with two home runs and 16 RBIs.
This followed a Posey-like first half, where he hit .325 with 13 home runs. Although the 2012 National League MVP will not admit he wore down midseason, he did tell Pavlovic he needed to do more strength conditioning.
"I feel like no matter how you feel physically or mentally, you should be able to find a way to get the job done," Posey said. "I didn't do that in the second half, and I look forward to this year. You learn from last year and hopefully be a better player."
The Giants' All-Star catcher doesn't want a repeat of his sluggish second half. Posey said he added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason and looked noticeably more muscular when he showed up to FanFest on Feb. 1.
Although catching is perhaps the most grueling position in the game, Posey said it had no impact on his slump. But it does leave one to wonder if three full seasons in the squat is starting to take its toll on the 26-year-old catcher.
One of the newest Giants, outfielder Michael Morse, is trying to overcome health issues of his own. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Morse is blaming his abysmal 2013 seasons--where he hit just .251 and had a .651 OPS with the Mariners and Orioles--on a wrist injury.
After finding the right hand specialist, with the help of former Giant Mark DeRosa, Morse told reporters last week he is now pain free.
If Morse's wrist has indeed healed, the Giants may get the 2012 slugger who hit .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in 102 games. That is not bad for a potential seven-hole hitter.
And just to make Giants fans more optimistic about their free agent pickup, Morse reportedly put on a power show during live batting practice Thursday, muscling opposite-field shots out of the ballpark.
The hitters weren't the only ones getting in to better shape for 2014.
Tim Lincecum, who rarely did any offseason baseball activity in year's past, tried a different approach as he tries to recover from back-to-back disappointing seasons.
With the help of friends willing to catch for him and a warehouse he rented out, Lincecum prepped for the season a bit earlier.
“We threw down some turf, threw down a mound, a couple nets and some of my friends, who’ll let me throw anything at them,” Lincecum told Andrew Baggarly of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner practiced regularly in the warehouse in Seattle this winter, according to CSN Bay Area.
“I thought more throwing could be good to get my release and the feel for the ball coming out of my hand as early as I could, instead of finding it as I go,” Lincecum said.
The extra work may pay off this season. Baggarly said Lincecum looked "a bit crisper while throwing to Buster Posey" during his first official bullpen session earlier this week.
Tim Hudson, who figures to mentor Lincecum this offseason, has worked hard to come back strong from a broken right ankle.
"I'm on my way. I'm not where I want to be. I'm a little further behind than I normally am just from a body standpoint, but I've never been this old, either," the 38-year-old Hudson told Henry Schulman the Chronicle.
The Chronicle also said Hudson "looked as though the broken ankle and months of rehab never happened," as he was throwing to hitters during live batting practice. Almost every pitch he threw was knee-high or below, and hitters were chopping balls on the ground.
The sinkerballer is expected to be ready by Opening Day.
"I feel like I'm right on schedule to be healthy for the start of the year," Hudson said to Pavlovic when pitchers and catchers reported on Feb. 14. "The ankle feels really good. It's definitely pretty close to 100 percent. It's not quite there yet, but we still have a few more weeks to get it there. I don't suspect it's going to be a problem."
One Giant who is always in good shape is center fielder Angel Pagan.
But that didn't prevent him from missing most of 2013 with a strained left hamstring. When Pagan did not play last year, the Giants were just 42-54.
Pagan, however, showed last year he is completely healthy coming in to 2014. Pagan hit .323 after returning to the lineup on Aug. 30, sparking the Giants to a strong 2013 finish.
According to Chris Haft of MLB.com, Pagan showed up to camp in "excellent physical condition." Pagan told Haft his offseason stretching and agility drills will help prevent a repeat of the 2013 hamstring problems.
AngelVine #SFGiants #SFGSpring https://t.co/RJ65nhMUIZ
— San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants) February 20, 2014
Even the backups are taking physical fitness serious this offseason. Backup catcher Hector Sanchez showed up to camp about 20 pounds lighter than last year, when he weighed 234 pounds, according to Haft.
Time will tell if the hard work at gym will pay off for the Giants, but in a time where baseball is full of complete athletes, the Giants have put themselves in a good position to have a memorable 2014 season.
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