SCOTTSDALE - Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro took live batting practice for the first time this spring and participated in team fielding drills Wednesday. But although Scutaro said his ailing back is improving, he wasn’t ready to declare he’ll be available for the Giants on Opening Day.
“I don’t want to say nothing right now just because backs are tricky,” Scutaro said. “I can tell you right now, yeah, I feel great, and then wake up tomorrow and can’t even walk or something. So we’re just going to go day by day.”
Scutaro has yet to play in a game this spring, and manager Bruce Bochy recently said the Giants might have to start considering contingency plans if the 38-year-old has not gotten into a game by this weekend.
Scutaro on Wednesday said his back fatigues quickly when he swings a bat and “we want to get to a point where it’s a little stronger.” He said he feels he could play in a game right now, but the goal of waiting is to build enough strength in his back and core muscles to where the back isn’t a recurring issue like it was last season.
“I played with worse (pain) last year,” Scutaro said. “My point is I want to feel like I’m able to compete ever day, play a game and go back to my apartment and get some rest and feel like I actually got some rest - not dealing with the pain the whole night.”
Scutaro’s concerns with the back go beyond baseball; he said over the past year he often has been unable to relax or sleep without pain. Beyond working with team trainers he has seen a back specialist in Los Angeles, but said the problem is something he doesn’t think surgery can fix.
The Giants intended to work Scutaro in slowly this spring, with assistant general manager Bobby Evans reiterating Wednesday the process is “an investment in his season to get him as strong and ready as we can, so you don’t run into these bumps during the year.”
For that reason, the battle for the utility infield job on the Giants’ 25-man roster takes on a little added importance this spring. Joaquin Arias, likely to make be the fifth infielder, would seem a logical replacement for Scutaro if the latter isn’t available on March 31.
But the Giants’ sixth infielder could also be a key piece, and right now that is an open competition between Ehire Adrianza, Tony Abreu, Nick Noonan and Brandon Hicks. (Tomorrow’s print story in The Bee is on Adrianza, who has made an early impression showing some pop in his bat).
Manager Bruce Bochy said the Giants are still optimistic about Scutaro and “the hope is to have him on the field soon. I wish I had a date for you, but just having him out here taking ground balls and swinging a bat is a step in the right direction.”
Still, Bochy said, there are some boxes Scutaro needs to check off before the Giants are comfortable starting the season with him at second. That includes playing back-to-back games, which currently sounds like Scutaro’s main concern. Bochy said that’s something the Giants would need to see before they break camp.
Told of Scutaro not exactly declaring himself a lock for Opening Day, Bochy sounded a bit surprised and said he hopes Scutaro’s spirits pick up in the next week.
“We certainly need him to be optimistic,” Bochy said. “I know it’s frustrating for him. You’re hoping it comes around a little bit quicker. But sometimes these things, they turn the corner real fast. We’re still hopeful and optimistic that will happen.”
• On the topic of backup infielders, Bochy and the Giants may have found a legitimate candidate for backup duty at first base Wednesday in the form of Hector Sanchez, who started against the White Sox with Brandon Belt out sick.
Sanchez played an impressive defensive game at first before moving behind the plate to finish the game and told reporters of playing first as he was walking off the field: “I tell you guys, it’s a piece of cake.”
“It looked like he was picking pitches for me down at home plate,” said starting pitcher Tim Lincecum. “I think Belt’s got to look out for his job.”
Bochy sounded impressed, too, saying Sanchez has taken some grounders at first during camp but that he still wasn’t sure what to expect. Sanchez has never played first in a big-league game and has 46 appearances there in the minors.
“How good did he look?” Bochy said. “He goes out there and does a great job for us and that’s pretty impressive.”
Bochy was asked what he would actually do during the season if the Giants were to lose Belt for an extended stretch, and said he could “ham and egg it” with a combination of Michael Morse, Buster Posey and Sanchez, with Joaquin Arias another possibility.
He also said Sanchez’s showing at first was likely helped by the latter’s showing up to camp this season in better shape than at this point last year, when Sanchez was also nursing a sore shoulder.
“He made it look easy over there, and that’s I guess a nice option to have if we want to get him in game and we want Buster behind the plate,” Bochy said. “He’s earned another look over there, I’ll say that.”
• Lincecum had his longest outing of the spring Wednesday in the Giants’ 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox, throwing four scoreless innings before coming back out for the fifth and allowing a pair of runs. Lincecum said the slip wasn’t a result of fatigue and he still felt strong at the end of the outing, but exited due to pitch count.
“(I was) kind of up a little (in the fifth), but outside of that I was definitely on both sides of the plate,” Lincecum said. “I would’ve liked to throw more strikes - got to more 3-2 counts than I wanted to - but just battled.”
The stamina at this point in spring is encouraging for Lincecum, who said Wednesday a goal of his this season is to reach the 200-inning plateau that he has missed each of the past two years. Prior to that, Lincecum eclipsed 200 innings in four consecutive seasons.
“That comes back to preparation and leaving yourself a lot more options when you go into each day,” Lincecum said. “I’d like to see myself get back to there and push myself and challenge myself in that way.”
• The Giants announced their second round of roster cuts Wednesday morning involving 10 players. Pitchers Jason Berken and Mitch Lively, catcher Andrew Susac and infielder Chris Dominguez were reassigned to minor-league camp.
Pitchers Jose De Paula, Mike Kickham, Hunter Strickland and Jose Flores; infielder Adam Duvall and outfielder Gary Brown were optioned. All players will report to minor-league camp tomorrow or Friday.
You could still see some of those players back with the Giants for games this spring. For example, Bochy said Susac will catch for the Giants in their night game Thursday.
Bochy also had this to say about Susac, the Jesuit High School graduate in his third camp with the organization: “I just thought he got better and more comfortable the more time he got here. He really relaxed and realized he can play here.”
• Nice ending to Wednesday’s game for the Giants - they entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 3-2 and won it as Sanchez led off against Nestor Molina with a single, Noonan doubled to score pinch runner Juan Perez, Hicks moved Noonan to third with a sacrifice bunt and Arias singled to score Noonan with the game-winning run.
• With Belt out, Bochy had Morse batting second to get the left fielder an early at-bat. Asked if it was something he might be considering for the regular season, Bochy grinned and said, “Absolutely not.” So there’s that.
Morse, by the way, came up for his first at-bat following a leadoff single by Gregor Blanco, leading to some joking in the press box over whether the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Morse might try to bunt Blanco over. He did slightly better - a double to the gap in right-center that scored Blanco for the game’s first run.
• Bochy said Belt probably won’t be available tomorrow, assuming he’ll still be “washed out” from his illness. Angel Pagan was also scratched from today’s lineup for a doctor’s appointment. Asked if there’s something up with Pagan, Bochy said the Giants were just “getting him checked out about something, but that’s something we’re going to keep between us.” Something to keep an eye on.