TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ryan Vogelsong stared in at Albert Pujols and twirled the baseball between his fingers, one of which was fractured last season. He fired a two-strike fastball away from the Los Angeles Angels slugger and then slowly walked back toward the dugout, his refreshed arm swinging back and forth.
It was a brief flash of Vogelsong's past greatness in what ended up being another up-and-down day on the mound. It's those positive moments that Vogelsong is focusing on, that tell him he's on the right track despite a 9.00 spring ERA.
"I feel like I can go out and throw the ball like that a lot and we're going to be OK," Vogelsong said. "This is a normal spring training for me. It takes me a little bit to get going and feel what I'm doing. That's why I don't think I'm panicking, because this is kind of normal for me."
Vogelsong feels like his old self physically, and he even has thrown a new wrinkle into his preparation. In the offseason, Vogelsong had his thoracic rotation and mobility measured, and his trainer pointed out that the 36-year-old's ribs were getting tight. It is a natural part of aging, but a problem for a pitcher. Vogelsong does yoga to increase his flexibility and this spring he has had daily sessions with trainers to loosen the muscles around his ribs. The Giants call it "joint mobility." Vogelsong will lie on a trainer's table and have his ribs pressed from the front and the back.
"It's about flexibility," he said. "I can tell a big difference right now with the flexibility I have compared to last year. It's something I had never really had to worry about, but I'm just now realizing it's something you have to stay on top of."
Vogelsong has added the flexibility work to the library of drills and tedious exercises he has picked up during more than a decade in the game. The joint mobility work is designed to keep the muscles around his shoulder loose.
"You're trying to transfer energy from your legs to your midsection to your arm," trainer Dave Groeschner said. "This is something he's addressing now. These guys know their bodies and they're so finely tuned. If something is off, they know it."
A lot was off for Vogelsong last season. He had a 7.19 ERA in nine starts before a fractured right pinkie finger landed him on the disabled list.
Vogelsong pitched better after he returned in August, but the numbers still weren't up to his standards. In 10 starts over the final two months, Vogelsong had a 4.55 ERA and allowed opposing hitters to bat .282.
The Giants believe an uptick is coming and gave Vogelsong a one-year deal. Despite Vogelsong's rough 2013 season, the front office elected not to bring in competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. Asked about Vogelsong's rotation spot Monday, manager Bruce Bochy bristled.
"Right now, he's the guy that's going out there, I'll leave it at that," Bochy said. "We're not going to talk about what we're going to do until we talk about it."
Vogelsong appreciates the trust, saying it allows him to focus on the mound. He looked to be pitching with conviction at the outset Monday, retiring the first seven Los Angeles Angels he faced. The wheels came off in a long fourth inning and the Angels ultimately scored four runs off Vogelsong.
"I felt fine," Vogelsong said. "I just need to start making some better pitches when I get ahead. I'm letting hitter back into the count. I feel like I'm trying too hard when I get ahead, when I get 0-2. I was ahead of everybody today."
After giving up eight runs to the Cleveland Indians last week, Vogelsong said he was pleased with his stuff and just had a poor approach. He felt his stuff was even better Monday, even if the box score doesn't show it.
"The first three innings, he was right on and hitting his spots," Bochy said. "I thought today was much better than the last outing."