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'Like the old times': Panda, Pence back in action

@mi_guardado
March 2, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants debuted what felt like a throwback lineup on Monday, penciling Pablo Sandoval into the No. 3 spot, one slot ahead of Hunter Pence. “It's like we went to a little black hole there for a year and then all of a sudden, we're right back

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants debuted what felt like a throwback lineup on Monday, penciling Pablo Sandoval into the No. 3 spot, one slot ahead of Hunter Pence.

“It's like we went to a little black hole there for a year and then all of a sudden, we're right back with Pablo and Hunter out there like the old times,” right-hander Jeff Samardzija said.

Sandoval made his second start at designated hitter after re-signing with the Giants on a Minor League deal, while Pence suited back up for San Francisco for the first time since Sept. 30, 2018, after returning on a one-year, $3 million contract.

That the 33-year-old Sandoval and the 36-year-old Pence are back with the Giants is a mildly surprising development for a rebuilding club that is not expected to contend in 2020. Still, the veterans and close friends feel they still have plenty to offer the Giants this year, a notion that was on display in the third inning of an 8-1 win over the D-backs at Salt River Fields.

After Sandoval singled to put runners on first and second with two outs, Pence delivered an RBI single up the middle to score Wilmer Flores and give the Giants a 1-0 lead. Sandoval went from first to third on the play, though Pence was subsequently picked off first base by D-backs right-hander Trevor Clifton to end the inning.

“It was my first at-bat in a long time,” said Pence, who went 1-for-2 and logged two innings in right field in his Cactus League debut. “I had a lot of adrenaline. It felt really good. It's always exciting to play with Pablo. He’s my soul brother, and it's just so fun to watch him play. That was a pretty good first-to-third right there.”

Pence received loud ovations from Giants fans in each of his plate appearances and said he felt the love from the minute he walked onto the field.

“It's a tremendous honor to be welcomed,” Pence said. “It was definitely the whole game, ‘Welcome back, Hunter. Welcome back, Hunter.’ It means a lot. It feels really good to be back. I’m happy I got to get out there and play some baseball finally.”

The Giants have been slow playing Pence early in camp to try to avoid the injuries that limited him to only 83 games in his comeback season with the Rangers last year, but he said he was eager to ease back into game action. The Giants had initially planned for Pence to appear in his first game on Tuesday, but he successfully lobbied to make his spring debut one day early against the D-backs.

Pence is expected to form a platoon with Alex Dickerson in left field and will give the Giants a big right-handed bat to deploy against left-handed pitching, though he will see time against both righties and lefties this spring.

Sandoval will be limited to hitting as he continues his rehab from Tommy John surgery, but he showed off his wheels again after drawing a leadoff walk in the fifth. He advanced to third on a double by Austin Slater and then scored on a wild pitch by right-hander Jon Duplantier to extend the Giants’ lead to 5-1.

“He was awesome, man,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He was so fired up coming into the dugout. It was such a boost of energy for everyone.”

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter.