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How Pablo Sandoval has begun helping Giants, with bat and mindset



Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Pablo Sandoval stock is pointing north because that is where his batted balls’ trajectory is pointing.

The Giants’ infielder/DH/pinch-hitter has begun to awake, and in classic Panda fashion. When he is going right, he barely needs to see the pitch to get a swing on it. Though, to be fair, Tuesday he surely saw the 90-mph fastball that was nearly eye-level when he redirected it over the right-field fence, his first home run since July 31 of last year.

“He’s just dangerous because he swings and is able to put the barrel on so many pitches,” Gabe Kapler said after the game, going as far to compare Sandoval’s penchant for bad pitches to Vladimir Guerrero’s.

Sandoval’s problem early on has not been hitting the ball hard — his 91.7 average exit velocity is the best of his career since 2015, when the stat began being recorded — but directing too many toward the ground. Through Saturday’s play, 57.1 percent of his batted balls had been ground balls, the highest and worst of his career.

But it’s been a nice few days for Sandoval, who is 4-for-10 with that home run and a double since Sunday, raising his flyball rate to 34.1 percent, up from last year.

“Pablo’s actually been on the barrel for various portions of this season — at times we’ve seen him drive the ball, either on a low-line drive trajectory, or a hard ground ball, and just not get rewarded for it because in this league defenses are set up to convert those into outs,” Kapler said of a 34-year-old who has raised his average above the Mendoza line, now slashing .204/.279/.278. “So what we’re really hoping is that he begins to elevate the ball and we’re starting to see signs of that obviously with the home run.”

The troubled on-field play early in the season mirrored life troubles, the Giants having said Sandoval has dealt with family issues. He has not talked to media since his size became a national talking point, Sandoval having reported to camp 2.0 overweight. He again declined to talk with media before Wednesday’s game at Oracle Park, where the Giants were set to host the Angels.

Kapler has been encouraged by Sandoval’s recent penchant for getting balls in the air, sure, but he’s been just as happy that Sandoval has been helpful around the club even through his struggles.

Sandoval’s first time playing third base this season came Sunday, when he subbed in for Evan Longoria in a blowout. Kapler approached the 13-year-old vet to ask him a very un-13-year-vet question: Would you be OK playing in a game already decided so they could give a starter a rest? Of course.

“The next day he came up to me and said basically that I never have to do that with him, he’s going to be ready for any situation,” Kapler said. “He thinks everybody has to take the same kind of mindset. So I was trying to show him respect and in return, he knew the situation, knew it wasn’t comfortable for me and kind of had a nice way of letting me off the hook.”

Sandoval still will need to justify his roster spot by continuing to hit righties, against whom he is slashing a(n improving) .178/.224/.267. But things are pointing north.

“Pablo’s gone through some stuff this year, and I think everybody has,” Kapler said. “He continues to come to the ballpark every day and put on a smile and show a lot of grit.”