MLB: Sandoval, Zito lead Giants past A’s |

MLB: Sandoval, Zito lead Giants past A’s

AP Baseball Writer

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – Pablo Sandoval has made strides nearly as big as his nickname: Kung Fu Panda.

Sandoval, San Francisco’s slimmed-down, free-swinging slugger, hit an RBI double in the second inning of the Giants’ 4-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night and yet again showed off his improved range at third base from an offseason of rigorous workouts.

He also staked Barry Zito to an early lead. These two are the players on the World Series champions with the most to prove in 2011. Zito was left off the playoff roster for all three postseason rounds last fall during the club’s surprising run to the city’s first championship since moving West in 1958.

The left-hander with the big curveball is beginning year 5 of his $126 million, seven-year contract and would like nothing more than to return to the dominating form of his 2002 AL Cy Young Award season while with the A’s.

Zito, the team’s No. 4 starter, went 9-14 last year and failed to reach 10 wins for the first time since his rookie season in 2000. His 4.15 ERA was the fourth-highest of his career. He went 1-8 with a 6.72 ERA over his last 11 outings and 10 starts and only had one victory in his last 15 appearances.

“Just another one to get the rhythm going heading to L.A.,” Zito said. “I just want to be quiet out there, in a good rhythm and comfortable. Keep the game slow.”

Nate Schierholtz added a solo home run for the Giants in the eighth. Ramon Ramirez (1-0) pitched one inning of relief for the win.

Oakland designated hitter Hideki Matsui singled off Zito to start the second in his first game at the Coliseum since joining the A’s this offseason on a $4.25 million, one-year deal. Matsui also added a fourth-inning single and a base hit in the sixth that chased Zito – Matsui’s first three-hit game this spring.

The Giants went ahead in the seventh when Mark DeRosa walked and later scored on an error. Mike Fontenot added an RBI single that scored Sandoval.

A’s lefty Gio Gonzalez (1-2) allowed two runs and three hits in 6 1-3 innings, struck out four and walked three in his final tuneup for the regular season.

Gonzalez said the Giants’ surprising run last fall motivated him to upgrade his offseason fitness routine.

“I’d have to say what the Giants did, it’s pretty inspiring,” Gonzalez said.

Landon Powell hit an RBI single in the sixth for Oakland’s lone run.

It’s two more lefties for the preseason Bay Bridge Series finale Wednesday at AT&T Park, with Madison Bumgarner going for the Giants and Dallas Braden for the A’s.

Top Giants prospect Brandon Belt earned a start at DH and has done all in his power to make the club, according to manager Bruce Bochy – so the Giants’ brass has a tough decision to make on whether to keep him in the big leagues or start him at Triple-A Fresno. It will likely come down to the last minute, with the Giants having until 8 a.m. local time Thursday morning to announce their 25-man roster.

“It’s up to us to decide if it’s his time or not,” Bochy said. “He’s had a good spring and done very well for himself.”

The A’s lost their fifth straight exhibition game and sixth in seven.

Notes: Guillermo Mota earned the save. … The Giants granted RHP Jeff Suppan his release from a minor league contract. Suppan wasn’t going to make the roster by the March 30 deadline in his deal and had an opt-out clause in the contract that allowed him to be released and become a free agent. … Injured San Francisco closer Brian Wilson threw 25 pitches in a bullpen session back in Scottsdale, Ariz., to test his strained left side muscle. He is likely headed to the disabled list to start the season. “Willie felt great,” Bochy said. “We’re very encouraged with his progress. We’ll decide tomorrow our next move. I don’t think he’ll start the season with us.” … A’s 2B Mark Ellis was scratched with tightness in his calf. … A’s closer Andrew Bailey (strained forearm) made 30 throws playing catch from 80 feet. “He said it went extremely well. He was very positive of his throwing session,” manager Bob Geren said. … Oakland RHP Rich Harden threw his first bullpen session in six weeks, making 30 pitches. He is nursing a strained lat muscle below his pitching shoulder.