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SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 07: Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants swings the bat against the Texas Rangers during the exhibition baseball game in the first meeting between the two teams since the World Series at Scottsdale Stadium on March 7, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Following the action at second base is Mark DeRosa #7 of the San Francisco Giants. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Brandon Belt
Scottsdale Stadium went silent not once but twice Sunday.
On San Francisco's first day of hitters facing pitchers, right-hander Matt Cain fell to the ground after taking a line drive off his left calf. A short while later, slugger Pablo Sandoval got hit beneath his left armpit by a pitch from reliever Jeremy Affeldt and was slow getting up.
Athletic trainer Dave Groeschner hurried to check on both players. Team orthopedist Dr. Ken Akizuki nervously jumped from his comfortable spot in the sun leaning over the dugout rail.
"You always worry about the first couple days,'' general manager Brian Sabean said. ``That's a rite of passage that's necessary but nobody enjoys. Nobody's got their bearings on the mound or at the plate.''
Once the workout was done, the Giants could exhale. The team is healthy at last, and determined to keep it that way.
Buster Posey is back behind the plate. Brian Wilson is back on the mound. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez is back from shoulder surgery, eager to start turning double plays again. Aubrey Huff, he's just back in shape.
Back together as a full unit after an injury-plagued 2011 season derailed San Francisco's hopes of repeating as World Series champions, these rejuvenated Giants expect to challenge the defending NL West champion Diamondbacks for the division title.
"To have those guys back, that's big,'' Huff said. ``There's no doubt last year we were banged up as a team, as a whole. I always go back to you lose six players from your starting lineup from 2010, there are basically holes in your lineup. To be back and healthy it's a big plus offensively because we didn't score a lot of runs last year.''
Posey hit live batting practice Sunday and caught Cain with hitters in the batter's box for the first time since his season-ending collision at the plate last May 25.
That marked another significant step for the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year, who has recovered from three torn ligaments in his left ankle and a broken bone in his lower leg.
"That's the most excited I've been to take live BP, ever,'' Posey said. ``It was fun. This is all about trying to get your timing right. I guess I didn't really know what to expect. That's the first arm I've seen since last May.''
Former Giants second baseman turned coach Jeff Kent shared his thoughts with Posey and others near the cage.
Facing Sergio Romo, Posey lined a fastball to left and crushed a slider to the warning track in right. Fans yelled, ``That a boy, Buster!'' and ``You're coming back!''
"I had to whip out the good one already,'' Romo said of the slider. ``He went out there taking hacks. Right out of the gate he was swinging. It was good to see that. It was very uplifting to see that. A healthy Buster and his personality puts us through the roof.''
Manager Bruce Bochy plans to decide in the next few days whether Posey will play in the Giants' Cactus League opener Saturday against the D-backs.
"I'm staying tuned,'' Posey said.
While Posey came out of his day great, there were two big scares. About 200 fans watching cheered and clapped when it became clear Cain and Sandoval were unscathed.
"I'm sure they'll be a little sore tomorrow,'' said Bochy, who was on a back field at the time watching Barry Zito and others. ``They seem to be doing fine.''
Cain iced his calf as a precaution, while Sandoval said that wasn't necessary for him.
Affeldt tried something new _ a slide step that ``just slipped'' _ and it traveled much farther inside than he planned.
"We don't need to lose the 3-hole hitter the first day,'' he said later. ``He seemed fine.''
Sandoval said all is well.
"Nothing serious,'' he said. "It happens. He's trying to get his pitches under him.''
New center fielder and speedy leadoff man Angel Pagan understands the significance of San Francisco being at full strength and plans to do his part to complement the Giants' key returners.
"Now that they're healthy, I know that we're going to have a good team,'' Pagan said. "I know how it feels to face them, and now we have Posey back. Our lineup has such great balance we've got speed, we've got power, we've got everything.''
Notes: Retired OF Pat Burrell, who recently had surgery on his left shoulder, is in discussions with Sabean to work for the club in some capacity. ``We hope to figure something out,'' Sabean said. ``We'll see what suits his interest and what benefits us.'' Said Burrell, ``I can't wait.'' ... Bochy's wife, Kim, a doula or labor coach, has been helping the wife of hitting coach Hensley Meulens, who is close to delivering the couple's second child. The baby is due March 15 but showing signs of a ``bam-bam'' early arrival. ``False alarm,'' Meulens said of the excitement Saturday. ... San Francisco is scheduled for an intrasquad game Thursday.