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Giants' Buster Posey enters spring feeling healthy at last

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SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Buster Posey caught a pair of bullpens on Day 1 and his body recovered beautifully.

Sure, that’s hardly his full workload or even close to comparable to a long regular season of travel and quick turnarounds.

But Posey can certainly relish how reassuring it is to finally feel like himself again following a winter without rehabbing. A year ago when spring training began, San Francisco’s veteran catcher was still recovering from right hip surgery.

He can already sense a significant difference in his swing both in the cage and during on-field batting practice, and he clobbered several balls Thursday under the desert sun at Scottsdale Stadium that left spectators marveling.

“I can say it’s night and day right now, from this time last year,” Posey said. “Just able to do everything normal for me at this point. Running was an issue last year. If I were to take a pitch, that quick stop that I would have to make was an issue. So, none of that. I think it’s just time, having some more time to let that thing heal, some of the scar tissue probably to be smoothed out. I’m cautiously optimistic that it’s going to be really helpful.”

The Giants are hopeful their leader is returning to full strength. Posey, who will turn 33 on March 27, has a huge yet unassuming presence just by quietly going about his business. He offers a soft-spoken “good morning” to each of his teammates as he passes through the sparkling new clubhouse while getting ready for the day.

His hip still bothered him last season. Running, and at times even the smallest of movements, might have caused him some discomfort.

Enough so that “you knew it was there,” Posey said.

“Look, the main thing, too, I’m trying to keep in mind is I caught two pens yesterday. I haven’t started to put in the work behind the plate, so that definitely changes things,” Posey said. “Hopefully if we have this conversation in June I’m saying the same thing, ‘Hey, it’s feeling great.’ Getting behind the plate and catching a full game and doing that four out of five days is different than coming off of four months of just training in the offseason without catching.”

He is embracing a new start as he puts two frustrating years behind him. Right-handers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija can relate as they dealt with their own limiting health issues in recent seasons.

“Let’s be honest, I think Buster got through a lot of last year with just heart and determination and just gut,” Samardzija said. “I remember when it first happened, the reports were he wasn’t going to be ready for opening day, so he hasn’t really received enough credit for being available all year from opening day on ‘til the end.”

Posey struggled to find his power stroke. At this early stage, he is driving the ball again — and everybody’s watching. Two or three people stopped new manager Gabe Kapler to tell him about a few long home runs Posey hit into the trees way beyond the outfield fences.

“That’s not an accident,” Kapler said. “It means his body’s feeling good.”

The six-time All-Star had hoped to hit far better after returning from the season-ending right hip surgery in August 2018, but he batted just .257 with seven home runs.

He said as the season ended, a mental and physical break were needed before getting back to the grind of offseason workouts.

In 2018, Posey hit .284 with five home runs and 41 RBIs while limited to 105 games.

Even throwing seemed labored, given the stress on his troublesome hip, which required repair of a torn labrum as well as removal of an impingement.

Kapler realizes what a difference it makes just to be healthy.

“I think Buster really had an opportunity this winter to focus on baseball and start to think about changes that he wants to make and one thing that we’ve seen unequivocally clear is that his power is right where it needs to be,” Kapler said. “Even in early batting practice sessions, you can see the flight of the ball and it tells a really good story. The ball’s coming off his bat really well.”

For Posey, simply having the range of motion in his hips again is a big deal. He cautions about getting too far ahead of himself, though he expects to benefit from working closely with new assistant hitting coach Dustin Lind, who has a physical therapy background.

The small strides mean a lot so far.

“I was able to train normally this offseason, no rehab,” Posey said. “It was fun.”

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