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Slimmer Panda won't be replaced late in games

Bochy will give third baseman more opportunities to finish full nine innings

Slimmer Panda won't be replaced late in games play video for Slimmer Panda won't be replaced late in games

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Pablo Sandoval might not have to leave the dugout as often to join the customary post-victory handshake line this season.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Wednesday that Sandoval, who in the past had often been removed in late innings when the team was tied or ahead, will play entire games at third base more frequently.

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Bochy's decision reflected his approval of Sandoval's efforts to upgrade his physical condition and his faith in the two-time All-Star's defense.

Indeed, Sandoval's weight loss should help his range, which in turn will improve his fielding. He has shed as many as 30 pounds by some estimates.

"Hopefully I'm not taking him out. That's not the plan right now," Bochy said after the Giants' first full-squad workout of Spring Training. "He's out there. How they play will dictate what moves are made sometimes, but he's a good third baseman."

Making plays never has been an issue for the sure-handed Sandoval, as long as he could reach the ball. Watching Sandoval participate in fielding drills, Bochy saw a spry 27-year-old.

"He looked really good. He has an even quicker first step," Bochy said. "You can see a significant difference."

According to baseball-reference.com, Bochy saw fit to replace Sandoval, usually with Joaquin Arias, 41 times in 137 starts last year. By contrast, Sandoval left only 20 of 149 starts prematurely in 2009, his first full Major League season.

In the 2012 postseason, Arias substituted for Sandoval in San Francisco's final seven games, all victories. Earlier that year, it was Arias who handled Jason Castro's grounder to end Matt Cain's perfect game against Houston on June 13.

Moreover, Bochy benched Sandoval in the 2010 postseason for being unable to move nimbly enough to cover his position. Sandoval did not play a single inning in the field during the Giants' five-game World Series triumph. That prompted Sandoval's first concerted weight-loss endeavor.

"I didn't take it personally," said Sandoval, who constantly engages in extra fielding practice before workouts with roving infield instructor Jose Alguacil. "They needed more defense sometimes."

Sandoval acknowleged feeling much quicker -- "with my bat speed, hips, everything." At the plate, he said that he must adjust to the increased acceleration of his bat through the hitting zone. Otherwise, he'll pull a preponderance of pitches foul.

Sandoval said that Rafael Alvarez, the personal trainer who worked with him through the offseason, will continue to condition him through the season.

"My workout was power, explosion and speed. So I try to maintain all those things," Sandoval said.

Long-term, Sandoval's improved fitness could hike his value in free agency, which he's eligible to enter after his three-year, $17.15 million contract expires following this season -- though he insisted he's not dwelling on that.

Short-term, his being in shape will only help him and the Giants.

"I train myself to play not only nine innings," he said. "I'll play 14 innings."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }