EXTRA BAGGS: Giants want a heavier Lincecum, etc.

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EXTRA BAGGS: Giants want a heavier Lincecum, etc.

NASHVILLE -- The Giants have asked Tim Lincecum to put some more meat on his bones this winter -- preferably not by eating out of a paper cheeseburger sack.

"The focus is on good weight," said Giants head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner, who spoke by phone with Lincecum last week. "If he can gain five or six pounds of good weight this winter and come into spring, that would be what we're looking for."

Lincecum struggled to a 5.18 ERA last season -- the highest among all NL starting pitchers who qualified for the ERA title -- before becoming a secret weapon as a highly effective long reliever in the postseason. He either ran into trouble in the first inning, when he struggled to repeat his mechanics, or in the later innings, as his pitch count began to climb.

The latter was more of a stamina issue as Lincecum pitched nearly 20 pounds lighter than the previous season. The two-time Cy Young Award winner said he didn't like the way his knees and ankles felt in 2011, even though he had a 2.74 ERA and struck out 220. He had gained weight by gorging on In-N-Out double-double burgers.

The Giants don't want Lincecum to grease-bomb his way back to his 2011 weight. But they'd like him to begin the year with some reserves in his tank.

"He felt good (in 2012) and it wasn't like he was in bad shape," Groeschner said. "This is a strong kid we're talking about. Could he be in better shape? Certainly. We'd like to see his legs a little stronger, work on core strength. We just don't want him to start on a deficit."

Lincecum is entering his final year before he'd be eligible for free agency. He'll be a member of the starting rotation, manager Bruce Bochy reiterated to me on Monday. And as you might expect, Lincecum is motivated to have a turnaround season.

Groeschner was encouraged after hanging up the phone.

"Timmy just seems more eager to get going this winter and do it," Groeschner said. "He's ready to go for it. I was pleased with that as a starting point. Now it's up to him to put that into play.

"We just don't want him to fluctuate. We want him to find a happy medium."

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Lincecum and all other pitchers were under orders to "stay cool" through Dec. 1. Now they are just beginning to crank up their fitness and throwing programs. But Groeschner said he plans to curtail their activity this spring, whether it takes the form of fewer bullpens, shorter exhibition starts or even delaying their participation in Cactus League games for the first week. (The Giants' Feb. 23 exhibition opener is their earliest in history, which is partly due to the World Baseball Classic.)

NEWS: Giants release Cactus League schedule

Groeschner said he would get with Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti to map out a plan to limit pitches after the Giants won their second World Series in three seasons.

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Pablo Sandoval confirmed what he told us in October: He's definitely participating for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

Sandoval is in Venezuela now and will play for Magallanes in the winter league. It's a different offseason than the previous two years, when he did less baseball work and more strength training along with weight loss.

He'll be watched by Jose Alguacil, the Giants' well-regarded roving minor league infield instructor, who is coaching for Magallanes. Giants hitting coach Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens is managing the Margarita club and checking in frequently with Sandoval as well.

Two years ago, the Giants put the fear of God (or Fresno) in Sandoval when they demanded that he lose weight. It's a little harder to do that with a reigning World Series MVP. Ultimately, club officials know it's up to Sandoval to come into camp in acceptable condition, and no amount of monitoring can change that.

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Sergio Romo is expected to play for Mexico in the WBC, and several other members of the organization are likely to participate. But the toughest call will be Buster Posey, who has gone on record saying he'd like to suit up for Team USA.

Bochy recently checked in with Posey about that decision; the Giants wouldn't actively try to dissuade him, but it's clear they would have greater peace of mind if he skipped the tournament -- especially after he spent 10 months of ankle rehab, played far more games than they expected in 2012 and pushed himself through three rounds of the playoffs.

Groeschner has received praise throughout baseball, and deservedly so, for the plan he and his staff devised to get Posey back on the field after those two ankle surgeries left him unable to walk for more than three months.

The Giants prefer to pace Posey the same way this spring, since you can't argue with the results -- a batting title and an NL MVP Award. But the WBC would throw everyone a big curveball. So stay tuned.

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George Kontos had successful laser eye surgery, and he wasn't the only one. Jeremy Affeldt had the procedure done shortly after signing his three-year contract last month, too. And no, thank heavens, it was not self-administered.

Maybe now Affeldt will be able to see those hamburger patties more clearly when he tries to separate them.

Sandoval returns, apologizes to fans for way he left Giants

Sandoval returns, apologizes to fans for way he left Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — The first two steps of Pablo Sandoval’s second stint in San Francisco were positive. 

Sandoval showed up to AT&T Park on Saturday in decent shape, the kind that will allow him to go straight to the minors instead of spending a few weeks cutting pounds. He also said the right things, apologizing to fans for comments made in the months and year after he left the Giants for supposedly greener pastures. 

“I learned my lesson,” Sandoval said a few seconds after sitting down with reporters. “I made a lot of mistakes.”

Sandoval said he also needed to apologize to former teammates, many of whom have not forgotten a Bleacher Report article from Sandoval’s first spring with the Red Sox. 

Back then, Sandoval told Scott Miller the decision to leave San Francisco was “not hard at all.” On Saturday, he said there was simply a “miscommunication.”

Back then, Sandoval said, “I knew early in spring training last year I was going to leave.” On Saturday, he claimed that he would have come and said he’s “excited, excited to be back … I’m thankful to the Giants.”

Back then, Sandoval said he didn’t miss his former teammates. "Only Bochy," he told Bleacher Report. "I love Boch. He's like my dad. He's the only guy that I miss. And Hunter Pence. Just those guys.” On Saturday, Sandoval said, “If I mentioned a lot of people, it was going to be the whole roster … Hunter was like my brother and Bochy was like my dad.”

It will be up to the players and team employees to decide how they really feel three years later. Some, most notably Pence, have been effusive in their praise of the move. Others have been more guarded, and some have grumbled. And make no mistake about it, there are executives at high levels of the organization who do not agree with a reunion. Why do it, then? 

“You look at it as a free look at a player who has done some good things in this game and has the talent to hit  baseball,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Sometimes a change of scenery can get a player back to the player he was and he was pretty good here. This allows you to take a look and make a call if you think he can help you or not. There’s no guarantee.”

Bochy called it a “win-win” situation and said this was not a marketing move, but it certainly won’t hurt the organization’s affiliates. Sandoval will DH for the San Jose Giants on Saturday and join Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday. He is expected to get at least 40-50 at-bats before the Giants make a decision.

Sandoval said his shoulder, which ended his 2016 season, is healthy, and he has resumed switch-hitting. It has been three years since he has been a productive big leaguer, but he is still just 30 years old. 

“I have to prove a lot of things,” Sandoval said. “I hope to be back and doing the best (I can).”

The Giants did not guarantee a return to the big leagues, but the coast is clearing up. Eduardo Nuñez, the incumbent at third, is Bobby Evans’ best trade chip and could be gone by August 1. Christian Arroyo is on the minor league disabled list. Ryder Jones will play all over the field with Sandoval returning to Sacramento. Jae-gyun Hwang was optioned back to Triple-A on Saturday and faces an uncertain future in the organization. 

The history of this organization says that if Sandoval shows anything at all, he will be back at AT&T Park before the season is up. At that point, he’ll have to sit down with some teammates and coaches and possibly explain himself. There is more to this than an article written three years ago. It was an open secret that Sandoval was ready to move on, and he had some fun waving goodbye to fans at the 2014 parade. If and when he does return, Sandoval will hope for the best from a fan base that is divided on his return. He did his part to heal some wounds Saturday, signing autographs on his way out of the park.

For now, Sandoval said he’s ready for his second chance. 

“At the end of the day,” he said, “I’m happy to be back.”

Giants sign Pablo Sandoval to minor league deal

Giants sign Pablo Sandoval to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO — Three years after departing for what he thought would be a better fit, Pablo Sandoval has returned. 

The third baseman, a key cog in the dynasty the Giants built earlier this decade, re-signed with the organization on a minor league deal on Saturday morning. Sandoval will join Class-A San Jose immediately and move on to Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday. He was in the AT&T Park clubhouse on Saturday to take a physical. 

Sandoval, now 30 years old, spent the first seven years of his career in San Francisco, batting .294 with 106 homers amid battles with his weight and inconsistency. The Giants never quite got on the same page with Sandoval when it came to his conditioning, and he alternated between being a valued power hitter in the middle of their lineup and sitting on the verge of being replaced. 

In Boston, there were no such highs. Sandoval played just 161 games over three seasons, batting .237 with 14 homers, and playing poor defense. He posted a negative Wins Above Replacement in all three seasons with the Red Sox and he was designated for assignment last week. Sandoval twice cleared waivers, so the Red Sox are on the hook for the remainder of a five-year, $95 million contract. 

The Giants have not yet commented publicly about Sandoval, citing tampering rules. The view from team employees seems to be that there’s little risk in signing a former fan favorite who comes essentially for free. With Christian Arroyo on the disabled list, Sandoval will not be blocking one of the organization’s top prospects, although you can argue that a last-place team would be better served looking at players like Ryder Jones.

Most players were guarded in their comments this week. Hunter Pence, the lone player mentioned in a positive light by Sandoval in a scathing article after his departure, said he is excited for a reunion. Others offered some version of, “If he helps us win, so be it.” 

It’s unclear if Sandoval can still do that, and multiple team officials, speaking on background this week, said it’s a coin flip whether Sandoval ever returns to the majors. Still, the Giants are willing to flip that coin, and their history says they don't sign veterans and leave them in the minors.