Pablo Sandoval (Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports)
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Pablo Sandoval is hitting the stuffing out these spring training baseballs.
The third baseman’s latest Grapefruit League triumph came Saturday afternoon when he notched two more hits, both home runs. He how has three round-trippers for the spring, with two of them most likely representing the furthest hits of any Red Sox player this month.
Sandoval is now hitting .333 with a .965 OPS in his 39 at-bats, while making plays on defense he would have no chance at a year ago. He’s also running the bases like we haven’t seen since joining the Red Sox, beating out close plays at first on a few occasions that would have been outs last spring training.
Oh, and he still weighs a lot less when getting beat out for the third base job last season.
And, guess what? He’s also saying all the right things, as was evident after the Red Sox’ 12-5 win over the Twins Saturday.
“First, I don’t think about myself,” Sandoval said. “I think my fans and teammates. This is a team I have a lot of things to prove for them because up and downs in my career. You have to prove a lot of things right now. That’s what I’ve been doing and I’m going to continue doing it for the fans and my teammates who have respect for the game. I want to continue doing all the things I’m doing on the field.”
But this whole deal is far from being punctuated. That’s why when given the opportunity to hand Sandoval the starting third base job after Saturday’s win, John Farrell wouldn’t walk through that door.
“He’s done everything you’re looking for,” the Red Sox manager said. “I don’t see any reason to say he’s the guy. Just continue to go play. We’ll put the best team on the field in a given day.”
Yes, Sandoval has checked off all the boxes … except one.
Through no fault of his own, the switch-hitter still hasn’t really been tested against left-handed pitching. He has been sitting at six at-bats vs. southpaws to date, notching a single hit.
And while there has been some optimism about how his swing has looked hitting righty, there really can’t be any kind of leap of faith, particularly considering half of those at-bats have resulted in strikeouts.
Perhaps there will be an about-face from the 2-for-41 horror show Sandoval presented hitting righty against lefties the last time he was a full-time player, in 2015. But that is clearly one part of the resurgence we can’t define.
And if you think a lack of exposure during spring training isn’t a big deal, remember that Hanley Ramirez got no more than a handful of fly balls in game action during spring training before being thrown into left field during the regular season. How did that work out?
“We’ve got a lefty coming at us on Monday in Wade Miley. There’s going to be an opportunity there,” Farrell noted. “The limited number of at-bats right-handed, it’s been encouraging. It’s been better than anytime in the three years now that he’s been here. That’s a product of just being in better athletic condition.”
There doesn’t seem to be a doubt that Sandoval will start at least the first three games of the season, all of which figure to be against Pittsburgh right-handed starters. The question will come when the Pirates bring in lefty relievers to turnaround the third baseman.
In these last two weeks it will be up to Farrell to uncover if Josh Rutledge will be the better option in those situations.
“Today is probably as good as you’re going to see from Panda,” Farrell said. “Another encouraging day. I would just describe it as another building block in his spring training to get back to previous levels.”