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02/17/08 5:52 PM ET

Vizquel arrives, not ready to slow down

Shortstop to focus on 'doing the little things' at the plate

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Although Omar Vizquel made a farewell tour of the Venezuelan Winter League during the offseason, his goodbye to the Major Leagues may wait for another year.

Yet Vizquel knows that he's at a stage where his ability to perform proficiently next season -- and even during the upcoming one -- isn't assured.

Vizquel arrived in camp Sunday all aglow, literally and figuratively. Sporting a tan from a recent Hawaiian cruise, the popular shortstop enlivened the scene with his mere presence, chatting with teammates long after his informal workout ended and hailing everybody in sight.

"He's got a great way about him," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's revered by everybody in the clubhouse with all that he has accomplished, and he's a guy that they listen to."

But Vizquel's cheer was leavened by realism as he qualified his most optimistic remarks.

"I feel like a [Ford Mustang] GT 500 with the 429 engine," Vizquel said. "Since that car was made the same year I was born [1967], I feel just like it. Like an old classic car. Hopefully there's still some value."

How much value is a critical issue for the Giants. Vizquel remains their projected everyday shortstop, but the club might struggle to squeeze offense from what's likely to be a powerless lineup if he endures another season like 2007. Vizquel's batting average dropped 49 points to .246 and his on-base percentage fell 56 points to .305.

"I have to concentrate more on hitting the ball on the ground and doing the little things," said Vizquel, a lifetime .274 hitter and a renowned bunter. "I think this team, this year, is going to do a lot of that stuff. My game is going to benefit from the hit-and-run and the bunt this year. There's no doubt that we're going to have to play 'little ball.' For us to win games, we have to do the little things right."

Vizquel admitted that he's approaching his baseball future "year by year." He said, "I don't want to say that this is my last year, because I feel pretty good. If I have a good year, I'd give it a chance next year again."

A strong season probably would guarantee him of playing in 2009, due to contractual obligations. The Giants will owe Vizquel $5.2 million next year if he appears in 140 games this season. He receives a $300,000 buyout if he falls short.

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Nothing's a given, although Vizquel has exceeded 144 games in 11 of the past 12 seasons. He knows that if he doesn't hit, he won't play. Moreover, Bochy wants to give adequate rest to Vizquel, who turns 41 on April 24.

"I don't want to put a number on how many games he'll play, but I do plan on resting him a little more," Bochy said.

Physically, Vizquel's ready. "I always prepare myself to play 180 games -- the whole season, plus playoffs, plus World Series, whatever it takes," he said.

Coming off a last-place finish in the National League West in 2007, the Giants appear unlikely to extend Vizquel's season into October. But their bleak postseason outlook didn't prevent him from re-signing with them last November. For one thing, he said that only two other teams, St. Louis and the Chicago White Sox, expressed interest. Also, Vizquel felt reluctant to change employers.

"I love playing in San Francisco," he said. "I like to feel comfortable in a place, and for me to go to a new team and try to fit in maybe one or two years left that I have in baseball is sad."

From a career achievement perspective, this year should be anything but sad for Vizquel, whose 11 Gold Gloves rank second among shortstops to Ozzie Smith's 13. Having appeared in 2,570 games at shortstop, Vizquel is poised to break the record in that category held by fellow Venezuelan Luis Aparicio, who amassed 2,583.

Like Aparicio, Vizquel has become a legend in his native country. Fulfilling a promise he made to his family, Vizquel ended what he called a 12-year hiatus and played 16 games for Caracas last November in a showcase for Venezuelan fans. Vizquel was greeted by adoring throngs in every ballpark he visited and received gifts from each team, such as autographed jerseys, trophies and plaques.

"I thought that was the best year to do it because I'm coming to a close in my baseball career, because I still feel that I'm in great shape and can play the way I'm used to playing," Vizquel said.

"I'm not at a stage where I'm slow and don't feel like I'm the same player."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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