San Francisco Giants

Five questions as Giants begin spring training

1. Why did the Giants sign pitcher Tim Hudson?

Hudson, signed to a two-year, $23 million deal during the offseason, won 49 games for the Braves (2010-12) and seems a perfect fit for pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. He’s also 38, with an ERA that has risen each of the past three seasons, and he’s coming off surgery for a broken ankle. The Giants say they’re encouraged with Hudson’s recovery, but it’s unclear how comfortable he is pushing off on the ankle to generate velocity and how his conditioning is after rehab. When healthy, he has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball – last season was the first of his 15-year career in which he made at least 10 starts and didn’t have double-digit victories.

2. What kind of shape is the Panda in?

This is the storyline that refuses to die, but it has added significance this spring with general manager Brian Sabean saying the Giants would be open to discussing a contract extension with third baseman Pablo Sandoval if he shows up to Arizona in good shape. Reports out of Venezuela are Sandoval looks very fit after conditioning and playing winter ball near home, but the Giants will make their own assessment when he arrives in Scottsdale. If Sandoval, who hit .278 with 14 home runs in 141 games last season, does pass the eye tests – and the fitness ones – it will be interesting to see if the Giants move to lock him up for the near future before the regular season begins.

3. Who will claim the fifth outfield spot?

The Giants’ starting outfield is set with Michael Morse, Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence, while Gregor Blanco sets up as a roving fourth. There’s a good chance, though, the Giants will carry a fifth outfielder to allow manager Bruce Bochy to replace Morse for defense late in games. The candidates include Juan Perez, who showed speed and a strong arm in limited time last season, and Roger Kieschnick, who earned a mention from Sabean at media day and spent the winter working with reigning American League home run champion Chris Davis. Former first-round pick Gary Brown remains an intriguing prospect – and on the 40-man roster.

4. Can Belt build on the end of 2013?

With the possible exception of Pence, no Giants position player was better after Aug. 1 than Brandon Belt, who hit .346 with seven homers and 28 RBIs to finish the season. Then again, no Giants player had a better spring last year than Belt, who then stumbled when the season began. Adjustments to his positioning in the batter’s box and grip on the bat influenced Belt’s second-half surge, and Belt said he’s confident those changes were natural enough to help him achieve the consistency he has chased early in his big-league career. The Giants still expect big things from the first baseman offensively, and building on last year’s career-high .289 average, 17 homers and 67 RBIs could start with another strong spring boosting his confidence.

5. How do the Giants spell relief?

Much of the competition in camp figures to happen in the bullpen, where two or three jobs may be up for grabs. Yusmeiro Petit, Edwin Escobar and newcomer David Huff could battle for a long relief role – and the first man up if one of the starters gets hurt. On the back end, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt should be locks. For the remaining spots, George Kontos and Jean Machi each made more than 50 appearances last season for the Giants, but they could be challenged by right-handers Sandy Rosario, Jake Dunning and the much-anticipated Heath Hembree.

– Matt Kawahara

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