SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Pablo Sandoval’s portion sizes and weigh-in statistics always seem to be a hot topic this time of year.
He understands it – and he doesn’t much care anymore. He doesn’t take any of the comments directed at his girth personally, either.
“It’s part of my work, everybody wants to know what I weigh,” said Sandoval, who is set for a formal date with the scale Thursday. “I’m fine with that. I just keep working hard to maintain my weight and play hard. That’s what I’m focused on right now – playing hard baseball and that’s it. I block that out. I don’t pay too much attention. I just play my game and that’s it.”
This is a guy who’s never going to be called slim. And that hardly matters to the San Francisco slugger coming off an All-Star, comeback season. He hopes his rebound year in 2011 gives him momentum moving into this season. He has a hefty new $17.15 million, three-year contract to motivate him as well.
The Giants seem confident their happy-go-lucky third baseman’s weight will no longer be an issue. The 25-year-old Sandoval lost about 40 pounds through a rigorous regimen during the winter before last season to bring him down to about 240, then batted .315 with 23 home runs and 70 RBIs in 2011.
Playing so much lighter, Sandoval exhibited improved agility on defense and better timing at the plate. He ran the bases with even more gusto than usual.
And he made the All-Star team as a late addition, selected by manager Bruce Bochy – the NL skipper based on the team’s World Series win in 2010 – subbing in as an injury replacement.
In 2009, Sandoval was one of the last players left off the team by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.
“Kung Fu Panda,” as he’s known, is eager to begin and prove himself again for any of the skeptics out there who spend their time criticizing his ever-changing midsection.
“I have to start getting ready for the season. I’ve been working hard. I have more muscle mass, I feel great,” Sandoval said.
During FanFest earlier this month, Bochy said Sandoval still had some weight to lose to get back to his ideal number heading into the year.
“Pablo looks good,” Bochy said. “He is (lighter than Feb. 4 at FanFest). That’s important for him and for us. We’ve still got two or three days here before we crank up those guys, but he’s here early getting some work in and that’s always a good sign. Feels good, looks good.”
Now, even the tiniest of fans are watching Sandoval’s every move.
“Who’s that?” backup catcher candidate Chris Stewart asked 3-year-old son, Sebastian, on Wednesday in the clubhouse cafeteria.
“Panda!” the boy said with glee.
“His favorite player,” Stewart noted.
Sandoval wants nothing more than to establish some consistency again and show that last year was no fluke. In his first full major league season in 2009, the switch hitter demonstrated his potential by hitting .330 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs in 153 games.
“That happens in your career, you have up and down years,” Sandoval said. “So, you have to focus and pay more attention to things. Last year was a lesson for me. Now, I know what I can do. Now, I know what I have to do. For me last year was great. It’s the kind of season you want to have in your career. I got it and I’m happy to be here again – ready for it to happen again.”
The Giants don’t seem worried about their star player a year after they helped him learn better eating and training habits while challenging him to improve his fitness and lifestyle or risk being sent to the minor leagues. He shaped up, all right, and saved his job.
“He looks good,” athletic trainer Dave Groeschner said. “We will get a weight on him this week. He is getting close to where he needs to be.”
Among the latest position players to arrive ahead of Saturday’s first full-squad workout was first baseman and left fielder Aubrey Huff, fit and trim after a winter of pilates work – the same routine he did before his stellar 2010 season. Huff, never one to be modest, announced he soon would walk through the clubhouse sans clothes so everyone could see his fine offseason work for themselves.
“Huff Daddy’s here!” Bochy joked as Huff signed autographs, “playing third base and batting third.”
Huff, rewarded with a $22 million, two-year contract in the fall of 2010 after hitting .290 with a team-leading 26 home runs and 86 RBIs for the World Series champions, batted .246 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs last season. Like Sandoval before him, he’s the latest player called to task by the team brass.
“I’m coming in with a positive mind frame,” Huff said. “Ready to go.”
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)