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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Spring training is a time for optimism. Everyone says they’re in great shape. Everyone says they feel like a million bucks. Sometimes they’re even telling the truth.
Unless you are a 38-year-old second baseman who needed a miracle and a lot of painkillers to avoid the disabled list last season. Then you are sober about the 162 games in front of you.
Then you are Marco Scutaro.
“When you’ve got a bad back,” he said, “your whole body feels like crap.”
Scutaro hopes his back is better than last year, when he seemed to age a decade while struggling to make routine plays at second base. He put in the core strengthening work the Giants requested. He believes it could make a difference. But he candidly acknowledged he wouldn’t know for sure until the pounding starts.
It’ll start later than usual. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Scutaro would take part in limited on-field activities for the first few weeks of the spring. When the Cactus League schedule starts, Scutaro probably won’t be in the lineup.
And Bochy acknowledged Scutaro will get more days off than last season, when he played in 127 games.
“We all get older,” said Bochy, who figured that Scutaro’s various maladies played into his defensive issues. “His neck bothered him, his back. A couple times during the year he was tight all over.”
The Giants didn’t acquire another second baseman over the winter – an item too far down the priority list when they were staring at three holes in their rotation. So Bochy said Joaquin Arias stands to get more starts at second base when Scutaro rests. Tony Abreu and Ehire Adrianza, both of whom are out of minor league options, will see time at each middle infield spot this spring.
But the ideal scenario, if not a likely one, involves asking a 38-year-old to rebound. To not feel like crap.
Asked if he ever had to gut through a season the way he did in 2013, Scutaro, seated at a table in the Giants clubhouse, slowly shook his head.
“Probably not,” he said. “Obviously my back was bad the whole year. It got worse when I was hit on my finger. It’s the batting hand, and that makes it hard. But you’ve got to find a way to go out there and help your team win.”
At least the finger looks to be a non-issue now. If you've forgotten, Scutaro tore a tendon in his left pinky finger in Pittsburgh when he was hit by a pitch. He could not straighten the tip of the pinky and was diagnosed with “mallet finger.” He missed less than a week as the swelling subsided, and thought he could play through the injury because he holds the bat with the pinky resting below the knob. But he ended up straining the tendons in his ring finger because he had to adjust his grip, and by the end, every foul ball was agonizing.
The swelling in his ring finger subsided over the winter and the pinky is a little straighter now after he spent six weeks with a pin stuck in there. He demonstrated that he could hold a bat like normal again, reaching into new teammate Mike Morse's locker to grab a sample.
"Sheesh," he said, smiling. "How big is this? 35 and 33 1/2. Wow. That might weigh more than me. I'll keep it in my car, just in case."
Not only did Scutaro avoid the disabled list last year, a decision for which he has no regrets, but he finished the year with a .297 average. He still drew more walks (45) than strikeouts (34). He maintained his marvelous bat control. But 117 of his 145 hits were singles. He couldn’t jump on pitches as he did down the stretch in 2012. And after Angel Pagan got hurt in May, Scutaro batted a whole lot more with the bases empty. He didn’t have as many opportunities to use his skills as the No. 2 hitter.
The bigger issue, by far, was his defense. A hailstorm of pop-ups in shallow right field found turf. Simple chances popped out of his glove. Double plays weren’t turned.
“I don’t think I played defense the way I wanted to,” Scutaro said. “It’s one point I definitely want to improve this year. It’s how you win games – pitching and defense. With our staff, we have to make sure we make all the routine plays.”
Scutaro knows there might be no such thing as 100 percent anymore. He’ll always have to gut through something. The older you get, the more you value the truth over spring optimism.
“I just want to get to a point I can do all my stuff in a day,” he said, “and then be ready for the next day, too.”