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Five issues facing the Giants this spring

SAN FRANCISCO — Like most in the San Francisco Giants clubhouse, Buster Posey often stared in mock disgust at the heaping plates of greens that Hunter Pence downed after games last season, when he followed the Paleo Diet. As a new season approaches, it isn't a kale and toasted pine nuts salad that has Posey making faces.

"There's a bad taste in a lot of guys' mouths," he said, when asked about a title defense that morphed into a 76-86 season.

Management loathes the phrase "lost season," but 2013 was certainly a forgettable run. The Giants didn't hit for power and rarely had their full lineup on the field. The starting staff was abysmal at times and the bullpen often turned close games into laughers. The team spent most of the summer bouncing between fourth and fifth place, and only a walk-off on the season's final day salvaged a tie for third in the National League West, 16 games behind the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

There was little positive to take away from 2013, but that doesn't mean the Giants are completely turning the page.

"I don't want it to be (forgotten)," said right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who had a 5.73 ERA. "I want it to be there."

Vogelsong pitches with a chip on his shoulder even in good times, but he won't be the only one in the clubhouse looking to use a down 2013 season as a springboard to another playoff run. The front office believes this group is closer to a third division title than it is to another battle for third place, and with that thought process guiding the decision-making, the Giants shelled out $172 million to bring back Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez, and bring in Tim Hudson and Michael Morse.

Will it be enough? The Dodgers have a seemingly limitless budget and will open the season as the division favorites, and deep and talented rosters in St. Louis and Washington should await the team that makes it out of the improved N.L. West. That's a challenge for October, a month that was kind to the Giants in 2010 and 2012. After an extended vacation, they're eager to have another long season, a process that begins Friday when pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale Stadium.

"We've had our time off; we've had the long offseason," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Hopefully they didn't like the long offseason. Hopefully guys come in with an attitude that they weren't happy with what happened."

Here are five questions/issues facing the Giants:

1. Panda Watch

A smaller Pablo Sandoval was one of the big stories of the offseason, as he documented his weight loss through short clips and photos on Twitter and Instagram. The Giants figure to be happy with the new number on the scale, but Bochy is eager to see if less of Sandoval translates to more power at the plate and quickness at the hot corner. After he weighs in, the focus will turn from pounds to dollars, and general manager Brian Sabean intends to explore a long-term deal with Sandoval, who is entering the final season of his contract.

2. A familiar face

The Giants have mostly spent the past two offseasons re-signing their own, but they struck quickly last November to add former A's and Braves ace Tim Hudson, hopeful that this Bay Bridge crossing goes more smoothly than Barry Zito's. Two years after Buster Posey's leg was the talk of camp, Hudson will have to prove that he's fully recovered from ankle surgery that ended his 2013 season in July. Hudson is famously competitive, but he's also 38, so Bochy plans to ease the right-hander into the spring.

3. Look to the top

On paper, the Giants could have one of the best lineups in the National League, but the deep attack will do little damage if the two table-setters can't stay on the field. A hamstring injury limited Angel Pagan to 71 games last season and Marco Scutaro, who turned 38 this offseason, battled through a litany of issues. Neither was at FanFest earlier this month; for the Giants to again contend, both need to be in the opening day lineup.

4. Next man up?

For the first time since 2007, the Giants needed 10 starting pitchers to get them through a season. They'd better hope that number is smaller this season, because there's little depth beyond the first five. Yusmeiro Petit is the sixth man and pitched well last season, but he takes a 5.20 career ERA into 2014. David Huff should provide depth and the Giants are excited about left-hander Edwin Escobar, but the 21-year-old has pitched just 54 innings above A-ball. Kyle Crick, Clayton Blackburn and Ty Blach are among the top pitching prospects headed to camp, and management will sleep a bit better if a couple of the youngsters accelerate the learning curve this spring.

5. Position battles

There are surprises every spring, but don't expect much roster turnover. The Giants enter camp with 21 players all but locked into the March 31 opener in Phoenix. Juan Perez has the inside track on the fifth spot in the outfield. Ehire Adrianza and Tony Abreu will try to sew up a second backup infield spot alongside Joaquin Arias. There are likely just two openings in the bullpen and hard-throwing right-handers Heath Hembree and Derek Law offer the highest upside.