JUPITER, FLA. >> Giancarlo Stanton stepped to the plate at spring training for the first time Tuesday, took eight swings and never hit the ball more than 100 feet, even though the pitcher was throwing underhand from close range.
Not to worry. Stanton was in a batting cage merely to remove winter rust, commencing his latest comeback from a season-ending injury.
The Miami Marlins' first full-squad workout marked the return of their $325 million slugger, who missed the second half of last season with a broken left hand. He took a lot of swings, and was still in the cage after some teammates had showered and departed.
"Smooth day," he said. "We got a lot of work in."
Stanton has hit 159 homers since 2011, most in NL, according to STATS, and that's despite missing 202 games during that span. For the second February in a row, he is returning from a season-ending injury.
A fastball to the face was the final pitch he saw in 2014. Last year he was leading the majors with 27 homers and 67 RBIs when he got hurt June 26.
It's no wonder Stanton regards games played as his most important statistic this year. He doesn't wish to speculate about what sort of other numbers he might produce in a full season.
"I just need to get to opening day and start there," he said. "We don't talk about the end of the season already. We're in day one of spring. Let's start there."
Stanton's return contributed to a jovial mood at camp, and not just because the Marlins haven't lost a game yet. They kept their core of promising young players intact during the offseason, and added a couple of All-Star names in manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Barry Bonds.
"There's a lot of talent," owner Jeffrey Loria said as he headed off to watch the first workout, "and we've got a couple of true icons in the dugout."
Ace Jose Fernandez is also healthy and hoping to pitch a full season for the first time since 2013. Getting him and Stanton on the field together would instantly improve a team that went 71-91 last year.
"I'm a good beginning key," Stanton said.
That has been the case since his rookie season in 2010, when he hit 22 homers in 100 games. Fifteen months ago he signed the most lucrative contract for an American athlete, but he has yet to play on a team that finished above .500.
"We've gone through every excuse in the book — young, new people, this and that," he said. "There's no more time for that. We have our core. We have just about everyone here from last year, except the coaching staff. We've got to put it together, man."
Stanton said he looks forward to working with Bonds, and has already found many similarities in the way they approach hitting.
Bonds, for his part, said Stanton will need little help from him.
"What would you like me to do?" Bonds said.
Keep Stanton healthy, perhaps?
"I'm not the trainer," Bonds said with a chuckle. "That's not my job description."
When Stanton broke his left hand on a swing, he was expected to be sidelined four to six weeks, but the injury was slow to heal. He finally started swinging without pain in mid-December and said he hasn't had any setbacks since.
He begins camp without restrictions, and the Marlins' plan for keeping him healthy is to cross their fingers.
"Giancarlo has been hurt the last two years on freak injuries," Mattingly said. "He got hit in the face, and he broke a hamate. Those are injuries you don't control. It's not because of rest or too much running or his training program. They're just accidents that happen. Hopefully those are behind us."
The season likely depends on it.