Hunter Pence snapping his skid with Sunday’s triple livened the dugout, assuredly allowed him to exhale and encouraged the Giants, who have shown so much faith in the veteran.
The breakthrough after an 0-for-23 start also took some of the shade off of Pablo Sandoval, the other beloved Giant who has not hit to begin the season and is now further in the spotlight.
Sandoval was in the middle of the lineup for Tuesday’s game in Colorado, batting fifth and DH’ing against righty German Marquez a day after Wilmer Flores (a righty) was the designated hitter against a righty.
Sandoval pinch-hit in the eventful ninth inning Monday, lining a Jairo Diaz breaking ball hard (104.3 mph) but right at second baseman Ryan McMahon — who didn’t come up with it cleanly and then threw wildly to first.
It wasn’t a hit — the soon-to-be 34-year-old hasn’t gotten one of those since July 26, 0-for-14 in the span — but to Gabe Kapler, it qualified as a start. The manager said he looked “much better” in the at-bat.
“Pablo is working to incorporate his lower half right now. Talked to him a little bit about this yesterday: He was feeling pretty locked in and focused on his hands,” Kapler said over Zoom on Tuesday afternoon from Coors Field. “So he spent some time with Donnie [Ecker] and Justin [Viele] and Dustin [Lind] in the cage, and they worked through some things together. I think a good adjustment has been made, and that adjustment is just kind of focusing on his lower half. Thought he had a nice at-bat last night.”
The insight into the swing adjustments was appreciated because Sandoval has respectfully declined media requests for weeks, not speaking publicly since his weight became a national talking point during summer camp. Sandoval, who has typically performed with the Giants (if not the Red Sox) regardless of his size, which has helped make him a fan favorite, gained weight during the break.
The Giants have supported him and Kapler, both during the camp and season, has shown empathy for a player who has only played first this year.
“Naturally, anybody’s going to be bothered by that,” Kapler said of the attention to Sandoval’s size. “People want to be recognized for what they bring to the table as a baseball player, and so I think I can imagine that that wasn’t easy for Pablo.
“With respect to what his mentality is right now, he feels like he’s close, he feels like he’s ready to make contributions. I don’t think he’s lost any confidence.”
The swing tweaks have come from both sides of the plate, Kapler said, though with a greater focus on the left side, where Sandoval is most comfortable. Thus far he’s struggled regardless of which side he bats from, 0-for-3 against southpaws and 2-for-19 against righties. He has gotten more at-bats than might have been expected because of the early injuries to Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria, but he hasn’t been able to take advantage.
Kapler said he has not seen Sandoval more frustrated than a normal struggling hitter would be, and other Giants have cited Sandoval’s leadership as key. Still, these Giants would not stick with a player for solely nostalgic reasons; they hope they saw Pence turn the corner and want Sandoval to be next.
If his bat gets louder, perhaps he will, too.