Sandoval close to returning this weekend

Sandoval close to returning this weekend
SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval appears to be on track to return to game action this weekend as part of the exhibition tuneup between the Giants and A's.

Sandoval has been sidelined with an irritated nerve in his right arm since March 16, but took part in a light fielding session and four rounds of batting practice on Thursday at AT&T Park. Sandoval didn't appear to show any signs of discomfort following his pregame workout.

Before Sandoval took the field, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he was "optimistic" that Sandoval would be available for the Opening Day matchup vs. the Dodgers on Monday, but that the team has a contingency plan if the third baseman is unable to play.

"It's going to be critical that he gets at-bats [this series]," Bochy said. "Or else, we'll have to go another direction for a week or so. We know that, we're prepared to do that. At the same time, we're hoping for the best with Pablo and he is able to get those at-bats and feels good."

Bochy admitted the situation is something of a Catch-22, as playing Sandoval could risk further injury and push back his return date. Bochy also said sending Sandoval back to Arizona for extended spring training is an option that could occur this weekend.

"We can't ever stop looking at the big picture here," Bochy said. "It's a long season and we're not going to push him if we don't think he's ready. We all have to comfortable that he's ready to go Opening Day or he's not going to be in the lineup."

The reigning World Series MVP took about 30 swings in the batting cage on Thursday, taking two sessions from each side of the plate. Sandoval also looked comfortable in his spot at third base during a relaxed groundball session, blowing bubbles with his gum as he took grounders and tossed the ball back to home plate.

At one point he even yelled at his coaches, "Hit it harder. Let's go."

Alex Espinoza is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.