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Originally published Friday, March 29, 2013 at 10:14 PM

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Sandoval returns to lineup for Giants against A's

Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval is still a possibility for opening day at Dodger Stadium, and he returned to the lineup as designated hitter in a 3-1 victory against the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.

AP Baseball Writer

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SAN FRANCISCO —

Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval is still a possibility for opening day at Dodger Stadium, and he returned to the lineup as designated hitter in a 3-1 victory against the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.

The World Series MVP hadn't played since March 16 because of an inflamed nerve in his right elbow, then returned to cheers each time he stepped into the batter's box.

Buster Posey went 2 for 4 against the AL West champion A's just hours after the Giants rewarded the reigning NL MVP and batting champion with a new $167 million, nine-year contract.

Gregor Blanco hit a tying RBI triple in the fifth, then Nick Noonan followed with a go-ahead single off A.J. Griffin (2-2).

Sandoval went 0 for 2, but what mattered most was that he played at all.

"Pablo's a huge part of this team, and to have him back before the season starts is big," winning pitcher Barry Zito said. "We're excited that we're kind of full force right now."

Brandon Crawford extended his spring hitting streak to 11 games with a two-out double in the fifth, then scored on Blanco's hit to deep center that went over Coco Crisp's head.

Noonan also added an eighth-inning triple ahead of Angel Pagan's RBI single.

Sandoval received a rousing ovation from the sellout crowd of 42,808 at AT&T Park when he stepped into the batter's box in the first as the designated hitter. Manager Bruce Bochy still believes he should be fine for Monday's season opener in Los Angeles, though Sandoval could come off the bench as a pinch-hitter initially if it hurts his arm to throw and play third base.

"That's a possibility," Bochy said. "We'll see how he's doing tomorrow. He'll have the day off and we know we're facing a couple left-handers to start that series off, so if we think he needs more time he could be used off the bench."

Joaquin Arias would start in place of Sandoval, but Bochy doesn't expect to make that decision until Monday morning before the afternoon opener against the archrival, big-spending Dodgers.

"He threw today well, he threw at 100 feet," Bochy said. "I watched him doing baseball activity, and throwing and swinging the bat he's fine."

Derek Norris hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth against Zito (2-0), who allowed three hits and one run, walked three and struck out one in 5 1-3 innings. It was his seventh and final spring start, and mist swirled above the outfield in the early innings.

"I feel pretty good," Zito said. "For me it's just working day to day."

He is slated to pitch the home opener next Friday against St. Louis - the team he beat in a series-saving Game 5 of the NL championship series last fall at Busch Stadium.

Zito seems more crisp entering this season than a year ago, if you ask Bochy. This is the final season of Zito's $126 million, seven-year deal he received before the 2007 season, though the Giants have an $18 million option for 2014 that becomes guaranteed if he throws 200 innings this year.

"He's had great focus, the concentration and the confidence," Bochy said. "I'm sure he got it last year and he carried it out into the spring. He's been right on really from Game 1. When he came to camp, he probably threw more than anybody, which is the norm for Barry. He threw eight or nine times out of the bullpen before he even came to spring training. He did work hard this winter."

NOTES: The teams play their exhibition finale against each other Saturday afternoon in Oakland. ... A's GM Billy Beane celebrated his 51st birthday. ... A woman jumped into the Giants' dugout after the fifth.

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