SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When a reporter asked Bruce Bochy if he sat down Pablo Sandoval last season and told him to get in shape, the manager shot back a surprised look.
One sit-down? Try a dozen or more over the years.
“That’s why I like for players to step up,” Bochy said. “Sometimes we can be the parents. It can go in one ear and out the other. It’s a little different message coming from your players.”
Sandoval’s teammates did step up. As the third baseman revealed in his first group interview of the spring Saturday, several players -- Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro among them -- challenged Sandoval to make a commitment to his conditioning and show up ready for 2014.
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So what did they say, exactly?
“I don’t think I came at him with anything negative,” Pence said. “I just told him how great he can be. I just tried to energize him. He gets all the credit. He did all the hard work. We’re thrilled he did.”
Pence might be baseball’s most relentlessly positive person, so it’s easy to imagine his talk with Sandoval being more cheerleading than confrontational. But what about the others?
What about Posey, who is as no-nonsense as they come?
“With Pablo, you always know what potential he has and when he’s in good shape, you see the damage he can do,” Posey said. “That’s really as far as you need to look. The proof is in the numbers he puts up when he’s in shape, and what he can do for the team.”
Informed that Sandoval told reporters he felt he matured as a person, Posey said, “If that’s what he says, then that’s great.”
Cain came the closest to acknowledging that he challenged Sandoval, saying, “He’s a big part of this team and we needed him to come in and be ready to go.
“You just see his athletic ability and maybe if he thought about putting more into his conditioning and his weight, he could get to more balls at third base, he could do more and he could be more versatile and really, prolong his career,” Cain said. “We all need to find things that push us along instead of being complacent with where we’re at. I’m glad he did it. He looks great right now. I think everybody is proud of him for what he did.”
Cain spoke from personal experience when he talked to Sandoval last year. Just a few years ago, the right-hander was on the other end of the conversation. The front office, and a teammate or two, got in his face about slimming down and taking his work between starts a little more seriously.
“He did, and he’s maintained it,” Bochy said.
Now it’s up to Sandoval to do the same thing.
“Whether or not you say (it’s because) he’s going to be a free agent, you’re seeing a different guy now,” Bochy said. “It’s a matter of being consistent with it. It’s a wait-and-see. But he’s got an unbelievable talent to do things on the baseball field.”
Said Cain: "We want him around for a long time.”
Whether the Giants are able to find common ground on an extension or not, there’s no mystery in this: They absolutely need a productive season from Sandoval, who could transform their lineup if he has the year everyone envisions. They need him to be at least a league-average third baseman again. They need his energy to carry through late in games. They need him to push them forward instead of being a drag on their season.
They like what they see thus far.
“You can see it in his face,” Cain said. “He’s got extra energy and he’s pumped to see how it’s going to turn out.”