SAN FRANCISCO – Pablo Sandoval stood out like a sore orange thumb among the Giants taking early batting practice and ground balls Friday afternoon, preparing to begin the second half of what has been a tumultuous season so far against the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks.
While most players wore the Giants' black warmup tops, Sandoval sported an orange T-shirt taking his turn in the cage, hitting a ball on his last swing that caromed off the brick wall in right-center field into the bleachers. The shirt was marked with sweat as Sandoval sat at his locker shortly thereafter and sunk into a cough – a product, he said, of spending a few days in the heat of his native Venezuela over the All-Star break.
"Daughter time," Sandoval said with a smile.
For the first time since 2010, Sandoval was not part of the festivities when baseball's All-Stars, including his manager and four teammates, convened in New York this week. After a good start that had him hitting above .300 as late as May 25, Sandoval missed 14 games in June to a strained foot and, upon his return June 24, fell squarely into the Giants' team-wide slump.
Sandoval didn't drive in a run in his first 13 games back and hit .118 as the Giants went 2-11 in those games, part of their 8-20 slide to end the first half. While certainly not the lone culprit, Sandoval's return had come with hopes he could give the lineup a spark, and his production dimmed those hopes. Sandoval left for home last week having batted .266 with nine homers and 42 RBIs in the first half.
"It was a good break for me without baseball for a couple days," Sandoval said. "You need that break to refresh your mind. Now I get back into this thing."
The same, Sandoval agreed, could be said for the team. After going into the break 6 1/2 games out of first place in the National League West, the Giants returned to AT&T Park on Friday with a chance to take an immediate cut out of that deficit with three games against the Diamondbacks. Though eight games under .500, Sandoval said the Giants were going in with a "good mind," partly because of an encouraging series in San Diego that ended the first half.
The Giants won three of four, and Sandoval went 6 for 15 in the series, hitting his first home run since May 21. Sandoval said he didn't feel markedly better, "I just saw more pitches and tried to have good at-bats, put the ball in play and got good results."
They're results the Giants would certainly take more of from a player they hope can be a consistent run producer. Sandoval said his foot is "100 percent" and he "feels great at the plate now" after needing some time upon his return to regain the timing of his hitting.
Manager Bruce Bochy had Sandoval, having gone 9 for 27 in his past seven games, in the cleanup spot Friday protecting Buster Posey.
Asked if he feels he needs to do more offensively in the second half, Sandoval said: "It's not about me, it's about team. Play like a team, stay like a team, and you're going to see the results. If everybody comes to the same page, we're going to win some games."
If the Giants are going to make a push, this nine-game homestand may be crucial. The Giants were 25-20 at AT&T Park entering Friday. The homestand carries them to the brink of the trade deadline, where it's still not clear whether the Giants will be trying to add pieces or offload them. Bochy, though, said before Friday's game he doesn't want his players looking beyond the day.
"Really every pitch, every play is so important to us right now because we're behind," he said. "We don't have the margin for error that some other clubs have. So every game is critical."
Et cetera – Ryan Vogelsong is scheduled to face hitters in live batting practice today for the first time since fracturing his right little finger. He could begin a rehab assignment early next week depending on how he responds.
Vogelsong, on the disabled list since May 21, would likely begin his rehab at Class-A San Jose, where the Giants would like him to work up to 80 pitches. Dates are not set, but Bochy said Vogelsong could rejoin the Giants' rotation as early as the second week of August.
Bochy said infielder Joaquin Arias (appendicitis), who is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday, will probably need two or three days beyond that before he's ready to return.
Angel Pagan has begun doing agility drills and swinging a bat, which puts him ahead of where Bochy figured the outfielder would be at this point in his recovery from hamstring tendon surgery, and Bochy sounded optimistic Pagan could return this season.