SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Though the outcome of an exhibition game bears virtually no impact, don't call these Cactus League encounters meaningless.
If a ballplayer's playing ball, it's important to him, regardless of the setting. Just ask Giants right fielder Hunter Pence.
"I'm excited for games to start," said Pence, who'll likely be in the Giants' lineup when they open their exhibition season Wednesday against the Oakland A's at 12:05 p.m. PT. "That's what all the work's for. We've done the due diligence -- facing live pitching, getting the body going and working our way into it. It's an exciting time for a baseball player."
Spring Training enters another phase now that the routine of daily workouts has ended. The countdown to the regular season can begin, especially after the calendar flips to March in a few days. For now, as Pence expressed, the Cactus League is satisfying enough.
"It's always good to get Spring Training going," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Once you get in a few games, you're talking about the season. But I know some guys are ready to get out there and get some at-bats."
Part of Bochy's job is controlling his players' eagerness to get on the field. Center fielder Angel Pagan's back, which bothered him earlier in the week, is fine. But Bochy won't play him until Friday, when the Giants play split-squad contests against Milwaukee and Oakland, just to be safe. Catcher Buster Posey, who's perfectly healthy, also won't play until Friday. And Bochy clarified a remark he made Monday about second baseman Marco Scutaro, who should be ready to test his balky back in games by the end of next week, not this week.
"As far as I know," Bochy said, "the rest of them are ready to go."
After enduring a 2013 season in which they struggled in every aspect of the game at various times, the Giants will be hoping for relatively clean performances this spring. That's a fair expectation. "Having something to prove" has been the mantra of camp thus far.
The lower the profile, the more spirited the competition will be. Right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, Wednesday's starter against the A's, and left-hander David Huff are the top candidates for the long-relief role. As for the other spot or two available in the bullpen, numerous contenders exist.
Juan Perez and newly acquired Tyler Colvin will compete for the fifth outfielder's spot. But don't forget about Roger Kieschnick, who received some Major League time last year. Veteran Tony Abreu and rookie Ehire Adrianza could spend the entire month of March vying for an extra infielder's role.