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Slimmer Sandoval sets serious tone to start camp

In final year of contract, Panda credits teammates for motivation to stay in shape

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Fans and the media have had plenty to say about Pablo Sandoval and his physical conditioning. So has Giants management. Sandoval revealed Saturday that even certain teammates urged him to stay fit.

But the most crucial remarks about Sandoval's dedication to preparation were the ones he made to himself.

Having arrived in camp several days ago, well before Tuesday's reporting date for position players, a noticeably slimmer Sandoval spoke of his desire to excel and bring the Giants back to the postseason.

"I put in my mind that I needed to grow up and take the job seriously," said Sandoval, 27.

Sandoval's ability is beyond question. His prodigious offensive feats, including hitting for the cycle in a 2011 game at Colorado and mashing three home runs in the 2012 World Series opener, reflect his considerable skill.

But the third baseman's frequent struggles with his weight have limited his production. A two-time National League All-Star, Sandoval hasn't exceeded 20 home runs or a .300 batting average since 2011 -- a season which happened to follow another concerted effort to get in shape.

Claiming not to have stepped on a scale recently, Sandoval felt unsure of how much weight he lost. But he was certain that he'll hear more skeptics say that his impending free agency motivated him to practice plate discipline -- at mealtimes, not in the batter's box.

"People can say what they want," said Sandoval, who has reached the end of a three-year, $17.15 million deal with the Giants. "I don't care about the contract. I care about my team. I care about this year, to try to win a championship."

Giants general manager Brian Sabean said during December's Winter Meetings that he would consider offering Sandoval a more lucrative multiyear contract if he came to camp physically sound. Sandoval indicated that he'd listen but didn't commit himself further.

"I'm going to be open," he said. "I'm not going to say no. But I want to concentrate on getting ready for the season."

Sandoval named teammates Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Matt Cain and Marco Scutaro as those who approached him late last season to point out the benefits of staying in shape.

"I feel blessed that a former MVP [Posey] told me that, that Hunter told me that," said Sandoval, who observed that his weight loss will particularly improve his fielding range. "I have to take it seriously because it's not one person telling me. It's all of my teammates telling me what kind of player I am."

The Panda whisperers downplayed their influence but noted the correlation between Sandoval's fitness and his output.

"I think Pablo knows what he has to do," Posey said. "He's been around long enough to where he knows what kind of shape he needs to be in to perform at his best."

"It's uplifting to see him come in the way he has," Pence said. Recalling their chat last year, Pence said, "I don't think I got on him. I just tried to encourage him. Really, he did it all. He made the decision. He put the work in. I think you have to give a lot of credit to Pablo."

Cain underwent a similar epiphany several years ago when he was led to realize that he needed to work harder to remain in top physical form.

"I think we all go through that point in our career," Cain said, adding that he noticed a difference in Sandoval. "He's always excited. But you can see the extra energy."

Cain expressed hope that Sandoval's gain can lead to a habit.

"We'd love for him to be here for a long time," Cain said. "I can't say what's going to happen this year, but this should help for years to come, I believe."

Manager Bruce Bochy remained cautiously optimistic about Sandoval's born-again fitness, with emphasis on the caution.

"It's a wait-and-see -- I'll be honest," Bochy said, adding that Sandoval must maintain "a constant discipline, every day."

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.

San Francisco Giants, Pablo Sandoval