TEMPE, Ariz. -- After spending the entire spring watching his teammates prepare for the season in Cactus League games while he dealt with an ailing back, Marco Scutaro finally joined them between the lines Monday.
After all, that's really where one prepares for the regular season -- on the field, facing Major League competition.
"Spring Training is for getting ready, but I think you get ready by playing games," Scutaro said.
It didn't take Scutaro long to acclimate to game conditions, delivering a double down the left-field line off Angels starter Hector Santiago on his first swing, eventually scoring the Giants' first run in the opening inning of their game at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
He also had a couple of challenging plays in the field, so the first test was a thorough one, even if it only lasted into the third inning.
"It was good that I had a lot of action, I got to run the bases, got some ground balls. That's a good day," Scutaro said.
Although Scutaro originally was slated to make an appearance or two in a Minor League game this week before his first Cactus League action, manager Bruce Bochy put him in the team's lineup Monday, hoping to get a sense of how close Scutaro is to being ready for the opening of the season in two weeks' time.
From his first swing, Scutaro looked good to Bochy.
"He made it look easy, didn't he?" Bochy said. "He got three innings, a couple of at-bats. It was good to see him out there. I'm sure he was glad to get a couple of at-bats on this field. ... We were all saying BP is overrated. He wasn't swinging the bat well, he hasn't taken a lot of swings, and he steps right up there and gets that hit."
Bochy said he'll likely keep Scutaro out of the lineup Tuesday, and Wednesday's off-day will give him a little extra time before getting into a rhythm of playing more and more as the season approaches.
The clock is ticking loudly toward Opening Day, and Scutaro says the number of at-bats he'll need to get ready for the March 31 opener at Arizona is an unknown quantity.
"That's hard to say. You never know," Scutaro said. "Sometimes it takes you 30, sometimes it takes you 20, sometimes it takes you 100, sometimes it takes you 400. Hitting is a feeling. You can't just grab it."
Or maybe he can, based on his performance out of the gates in his first Cactus League action. Then again, he struck out his second time up, swinging and missing twice -- a rarity for him.
Scutaro, the 38-year-old veteran who became an instant catalyst for the club when he arrived in July 2012, has been hampered by the sore back since arriving at Spring Training camp. When he entered his first exhibition game, he hadn't even faced live Major League pitching, just taking batting practice with the team's coaching staff throwing.
One day can't make up for all that missed time, Scutaro knows.
"You don't get your timing in one day. You have to build it," he said.
As for the defensive side of things, double-play partner Brandon Crawford saw good signs from Scutaro the day before, when they worked around the bag together.
"We turned double plays together yesterday, and it felt like we were right where we were last year," Crawford said Monday. "We have a good lineup with him in it. If we can keep everybody healthy, that'd be a good thing for us this year."
Scutaro took the first real steps toward being healthy again Monday, taking the field finally after a spring of frustration.
Clearly, waking up each day not knowing how his back was going to feel wore on Scutaro's patience.
"It's annoying just to live life. It [stinks] when you have a bad back," Scutaro said.
For the Giants, certainly, life is less annoying when they have their experienced hand at second base and in the No. 2 spot in the order.
Scutaro said he can still feel some discomfort in his back, even during the game, but he's headed in the right direction.
"The main thing is to get my back stronger and my core stronger, and try to feel like this day in, day out," he said.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less