Pain-free Pagan eyeing full healthy season

After back surgery, Giants outfielder ready to 'be myself' in the field

Pain-free Pagan eyeing full healthy season

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Angel Pagan said that at the height of his back pain, the discomfort contorted his body so much he "looked like a 'Z' every time I got up."

Pagan intends to look more like an exclamation point this year.

The center fielder and leadoff hitter launched his bid to overcome health problems and play a complete season as he participated fully in the Giants' opening full-squad workout Tuesday.

"It went better than I expected," said Pagan, who lashed several line drives during batting practice and looked spry during fielding and agility drills.

"He wasn't holding anything back at all," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Unfortunately, Pagan and the Giants know that one promising day can be illusory. Pagan played only 167 games in the previous two seasons, including 96 last year when he underwent surgery to fix a bulging disk in his back. Put in different terms, the 33-year-old played in 58 of a possible 134 games during the second halves of the previous two seasons.

Pagan's absences robbed the Giants of the vast contributions he made in 2012, his first year in San Francisco, when he reached personal bests with 38 doubles, 15 triples and 95 runs scored to accelerate the Giants' march to the World Series.

Pagan indicated he can recapture his 2012 magic, largely because he believes he has vanquished his physical woes.

"I'm very happy I got it done because it was something that wasn't letting me be myself in the field," said Pagan. "Right now I'm pain-free.

That's a blessing for Pagan, who was told by his surgeon, Dr. Robert Watkins, that he risked neurological damage if he declined surgery.

To preserve Pagan's comfort, Bochy likely will rest him occasionally. However, Pagan did repeat his declaration, which Bochy relayed during the offseason, about playing 160 games.

"Why not? I'd like to play them all," Pagan said. "The reality is, Bochy likes to give us a breather sometimes and I respect that. But I'm coming out here to play. I want to play as many games as they'll let me play."

Pagan probably will get his wish if he remains healthy. His impact upon the Giants' lineup is unmistakable.

Since Pagan joined the Giants from the Mets in a December 2011 trade, they're 176-130 (.575) when he starts, compared with 82-98 (.456) when he doesn't.

Intent on maximizing the Giants' offense, Bochy has hinted that Pagan might occupy other spots in the batting order besides leadoff. Pagan was unfazed by this, noting that he started seven games in the cleanup spot for the Mets. He also hit fifth and sixth 45 and 17 times, respectively, in 2012.

Wherever Pagan hits, he said that slowing the tempo of his performance is not an option, though playing more cautiously might help him avoid injury.

"I don't know what that means," Pagan said. "I just know how to play one speed and that's the way I'll keep playing."

He also admitted, "I'm going to have to be smart."

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.