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Tim Lincecum, right, and Pablo Sandoval must do more to be as fit and healthy as they can be, according to Giants manager Bruce Bochy. (Karl Mondon/Staff)
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Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval are fan favorites and franchise cornerstones, celebrated in the stands at AT&T Park with furry panda hats and fake wigs.

But on the field, there is no disguising it: They are having underwhelming years, if not complete disappointments. And their commitment to fitness has been called into question -- by outsiders as well as those who work with them every day.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy pulled no punches when asked what offseason goals he would set for his Laurel & Hardy-shaped duo.

"Really, the biggest goal is to get them in the best condition they've ever been in," the manager said in a candid interview before Wednesday's epic, extra-inning loss to the Reds.

"In this game, I don't think players should ever feel they've arrived. They should always seek to improve. And not only in how they play, but what kind of shape they're in."

The inference being that Lincecum let his two Cy Young Awards go to his head. And Sandoval thought he could roll out of bed and hit .330 again. Instead, he's struggled to hit .276 with 11 home runs.

It's a miracle the Giants lead the NL wild-card standings by a half-game as Lincecum and Sandoval struggle through trying years.

It's not just the Giants' pennant aspirations in 2010 that could hinge on whether their two cornerstone players can rebound down the stretch, as Sandoval has shown signs of doing recently at the plate. The mid- to long-term health of their franchise will be at stake, too.

Bochy is no longer trying to couch it: Lincecum and Sandoval must do more to be as fit and healthy as they can be.

"They are two young players with special gifts and talents," Bochy said. "But you still have to work at all parts of the game, and that includes conditioning. Sometimes you learn in your second or third season how important that is. Players realize how hard they have to work to continue the level of performance they want to play at."

Sandoval's issue is obvious. A well-publicized "Camp Panda" effort to shed pounds in Arizona last winter yielded no lasting effects; he began the season at a listed weight of 262 pounds that probably was a vanity number.

While he proved himself a nimble third baseman last year, scouts have noted that Sandoval's range has deteriorated this season and the 24-year-old isn't able to stretch singles into doubles as he once did.

Bochy acknowledged that Sandoval must make progress this winter if he hopes to remain at third base. If things don't change, first base looks to be in Sandoval's future, leaving the Giants with a potential need at third unless disabled infielder Mark DeRosa comes back healthy.

"That will be determined in the winter," Bochy said. "But I think, in talking to Pablo, he's determined to get in better shape and lose weight. Whether he's at first base or third base, you still want to be the best athlete you can be.

"For Pablo, the goal isn't just to get lighter but also agility training. Lots of running. You don't just make a goal to lose weight. You've got to lose it the right way. You work to improve your first-step quickness and your speed, too, if possible."

Sandoval will eschew "Camp Panda" this winter and stay in San Diego, where he plans to rest for a few weeks before starting a program similar to what trainers gave him in Arizona.

He can't climb Camelback Mountain, though.

"But we've got a couple of mountains in San Diego," he said, smiling. "I know I will put effort into it. I will do it. Working hard in the offseason gets you ready for moments like this."

Bochy also lives in San Diego County over the winter, and said he plans to check in with Sandoval. Given Bochy's background as an Army brat, and with Camp Pendleton just a few miles up the road, does he know any retired drill sergeants with time on their hands?

"Pablo and I will talk about that," Bochy said, smiling. "We may have somebody in mind already. That all will be addressed when the season is over."

For Lincecum, the conditioning issue is a little more complicated. His unique mechanics rely on a gymnast's flexibility to generate torque, so bulking up isn't the answer. The ultra-lean ace has plenty of muscle definition, anyway.

But the coaching staff believes cardiovascular fatigue and a lack of lower-body strength are reasons his fastball loses steam after two or three innings, contributing to an 11-8 record and 3.72 ERA. The lack of velocity, combined with decreased command, has sapped his confidence.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt, another member of the "power pitchers under 6-foot" club, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Lincecum's drop in velocity had to be a conditioning issue, and that pitchers like them "have to do twice the work a bigger guy's going to do."

Lincecum has heard a similar message from his own coaching staff, and after his last start at St. Louis, he took public ownership of the issue, saying he is doing more to prepare for starts.

"I'm focusing more on the in-between stuff and stuff in my bullpen," he said. "Other than that, (it's) just trying to take that bulldog mentality out there that I used to have. Just shove it up your "... whatever, you know what I mean?"

Lincecum has a 6.23 ERA over his past seven outings and will try to snap a four-start losing streak, the longest of his career, when he takes the mound against the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight.

Bochy credited Lincecum for the recent commitment he has shown.

"With Timmy, it's all strength and stamina," Bochy said. "But I'll say this: He's taken responsibility already for putting in more time and effort into his workouts. He's been spending more time in the weight room. He's got a routine. But that has to carry throughout the offseason, too."

The Giants already have asked a lot of Lincecum, who has thrown the third-most pitches in the major leagues over the past three seasons. And ideally, they will ask for much more. The idea is to rely on Lincecum to dominate in a World Series, too, right?

Even if that opportunity doesn't come this year, his season has provided a rude awakening.

"Oh, it hit him," Bochy said. "I think he knows now. He's going to be a priority, to get him as strong as he's ever been."

For more on the Giants, see Andrew Baggarly's Extra Baggs blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/extrabaggs.