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Sandoval returns to lineup for Giants against A’s

March 30, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The status of San Francisco Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval for opening day is still a big question after he left Friday night’s 3-1 victory against the Oakland Athletics with more discomfort in his irritated elbow.

The World Series MVP returned to the lineup as designated hitter after nearly two weeks off, but still isn’t right and came out of the game after only two at-bats. He had been out since March 16 because of an inflamed nerve in his right elbow, but felt fine to play Friday after going through pregame baseball activities.

“I was a little sore,” Sandoval said. “Just a precaution. I don’t want to be worse with opening day coming. I’m just going day by day. I want to be OK. It’s nothing serious. I have seen the progress in one week.”

Manager Bruce Bochy indicated a decision on Sandoval could come as soon as Saturday after the Kung Fu Panda is re-evaluated. Sanodval hoped his arm would calm down over night. Sandoval’s arm bothers him more batting left-handed, which he did Friday.

“We’re being cautious,” Bochy said. “We’ll see how he’s doing tomorrow and re-evaluate him.”

Buster Posey went 2 for 4 against the AL West champion A’s just hours after the Giants rewarded the reigning NL MVP and batting champion with a new $167 million, nine-year contract.

Gregor Blanco hit a tying RBI triple in the fifth, then Nick Noonan followed with a go-ahead single off A.J. Griffin (2-2). Noonan learned after the game he had made the opening day roster, recalled from Triple-A Fresno.

Sandoval went 0 for 2, but initially what mattered most was that he played at all.

“Pablo’s a huge part of this team, and to have him back before the season starts is big,” winning pitcher Barry Zito said. “We’re excited that we’re kind of full force right now.”

Brandon Crawford extended his spring hitting streak to 11 games with a two-out double in the fifth, then scored on Blanco’s hit to deep center that went over Coco Crisp’s head.

Noonan also added an eighth-inning triple ahead of Angel Pagan’s RBI single.

Sandoval received a rousing ovation from the sellout crowd of 42,808 at AT&T Park when he stepped into the batter’s box in the first as the designated hitter. Before the game, Bochy thought there was still a chance Sandoval could play in Monday’s season opener in Los Angeles, or even come off the bench as a pinch-hitter initially if it hurts his arm to throw and play third base.

After the game, it was much less clear.

Joaquin Arias would start in place of Sandoval, and keeping Noonan as an extra infielder gives the Giants a backup plan.

“He threw today well, he threw at 100 feet,” Bochy said. “I watched him doing baseball activity, and throwing and swinging the bat he’s fine.”

Derek Norris hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth against Zito (2-0), who allowed three hits and one run, walked three and struck out one in 5 1-3 innings. It was his seventh and final spring start, and mist swirled above the outfield in the early innings.

“I feel pretty good,” Zito said. “For me it’s just working day to day.”

He is slated to pitch the home opener next Friday against St. Louis — the team he beat in a series-saving Game 5 of the NL championship series last fall at Busch Stadium.

Zito seems more crisp entering this season than a year ago, if you ask Bochy. This is the final season of Zito’s $126 million, seven-year deal he received before the 2007 season, though the Giants have an $18 million option for 2014 that becomes guaranteed if he throws 200 innings this year.

“He’s had great focus, the concentration and the confidence,” Bochy said. “I’m sure he got it last year and he carried it out into the spring. He’s been right on really from Game 1. When he came to camp, he probably threw more than anybody, which is the norm for Barry. He threw eight or nine times out of the bullpen before he even came to spring training. He did work hard this winter.”

NOTES: The teams play their exhibition finale against each other Saturday afternoon in Oakland. ... A’s GM Billy Beane celebrated his 51st birthday. ... A woman jumped into the Giants’ dugout after the fifth. ... After the game, the Giants placed infielder-outfielder Brett Pill, infielder Tony Abreu and left-hander Eric Surkamp on the major league disabled list. The moves were retroactive to March 22. In addition, outfielder Francisco Peguero and right-hander Jean Machi were optioned to Fresno. They will have the day off Saturday then report to the Grizzlies club Sunday.

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