Entries in Pablo Sandoval (18)


The Panda gives Giants what they were lacking

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Now and then, you see one of those black-and-white panda hats. Not in abundance, like the glory days for the Panda, Pablo Sandoval, and the Giants. But often enough to serve as a reminder of the way it was. And for the guys in the clubhouse, the way it is once more.

Yes, after that 2014 season, the last World Series season in San Francisco — and there was Sandoval grabbing a foul popup near third for the final out — the Panda wanted more loving or more money or something, and not only joined the Red Sox but departed the Bay Area by tossing a few insults at the Giants organization.

But Boston was no place for Sandoval. And when the Red Sox waived him, his weight too large, his batting average too low — and were responsible for a large hunk of the large contract ($90 million) he had signed — the Giants figured it made sense to see what the man can do.

The idea turned out to be brilliant. Not only because with Evan Longoria out for several weeks with a broken hand, Sandoval is starting at third — after also playing first and, glorioski, even second base.

Not only because Sandoval is hitting .281 with six homers.

Not only because Sandoval was intentionally walked in the sixth when the Giants broke loose for five runs in their 6-5 win over Miami on Wednesday.

But maybe most importantly because Sandoval provides the spirit and camaraderie that at times was lacking as the Giants in 2017 collapsed to a 98-loss season.

“Sometimes you can’t put a value on this,” said Brandon Belt. “He’s accepted his role with humility. He keeps everything loose. He keeps you in the right frame of mind.”

Belt, feeling strong again after that emergency appendectomy a couple weeks ago, had three hits including a double in that big sixth, which — and you’ve heard this before about games at AT&T Park, where this one was played — might have been a home run at many other parks.

“We won,” said Belt, cutting to the chase. That they did, winning another series at home (they haven’t dropped one here since early April) and once more creeping to within a game of a .500 record.

They won because with Brandon Crawford away on paternity leave (he returns Thursday), and after consecutive night games Monday and Tuesday following a long trip, both Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey getting a day off, Belt, Nick Hundley, Gorkys Hernandez and, from out of the past, Hunter Pence had notable offensive games.

They won because starter Derek Holland allowed only three runs in six innings and, this is repetitive, pitching wins. Look, the Giants didn’t score until the sixth — the Marlins’ starter, Jose Urena, was sharp — but San Francisco still only trailed 1-0.

“What a job Holland did,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy.

Bochy also was excited by Gorkys Hernandez’s extended and successful at bat in the sixth, which lasted 13 pitches and concluded with a single to center that scored San Francisco’s fourth and fifth runs.

These Giants may not be leading the standings, but they do know to work a count. Belt set a record by standing in for 21 pitches earlier this season. Now, Hernandez goes 13. That requires a good eye and plenty of patience.

“Gorkys’ at bat was huge for us,” said Belt. “We needed those runs.”

The Giants’ leadoff batter in the first, Alen Hanson, a switch hitter, took a big lefthanded swipe at a Urena pitch, fell and injured his left knee severely enough that he had to be replaced by Kelby Tomlinson.

Another injury, after broken hands on pitches for Longoria and Madison Bumgarner and then reliever Hunter Strickland stupidly punching a wall, busting his. Cursed? Not really, said Bochy. Hanson will be sore but available. Those things happen.

So, for the Giants, do situations like Monday’s game, when ahead 4-0 in the second, they wound up losing 5-4.

Easy then to get depressed, to carry the gloom to the next game — or even for weeks. But not with the Panda around. “You need guys like that,” said Belt.

And once again, the Giants have him.



Giants’ Cactus League opener: Good pitch, no field

By Art Spander

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Once again, you’re reminded that exhibition baseball games don’t mean a thing. Except to the people playing them. Or, in the case of the Giants in the Cactus League opener of 2018, misplaying them.

As you know, and other teams — heh, heh — are gleefully aware, the Giants may not be able to hit, but as indicated Friday, they can pitch. The assumption was that they also could field. Sorry.

Which is a perfect description of San Francisco’s imperfection at times when the Milwaukee Brewers were at the plate. “I thought the pitching was good,” said manager Bruce Bochy, “but we got a little sloppy there in the middle of the game.”

Sloppy as in six errors. Sloppy as in, can’t anyone catch and throw? Final scores don’t mean much in exhibition games — the Brewers won this one, 6-5. Individual performances mean a great deal. Oops.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” was the Bochy description.

It was cartoon ball, movie comic ball. It was the kind of ball that destroys the sort of pitching produced by the Giants, particularly Ty Blach, who didn’t allow a run the first two innings and Andrew Suarez, who didn’t allow a run the next two.

“Blach, Suarez, I thought they threw great,” said Bochy. He was in the dugout after the game, bundled but wearing Maui Jim sunglasses, maybe wishing he was somewhere else, like the Gulf Coast, where it was sunny and bright and 81 degrees, In greater Phoenix, it was dark and gloomy and, ahem, 60 degrees.

“They were sweating bullets in Florida,” he said wistfully after watching a few minutes of Tiger Woods at the Honda Classic long before the baseball game.

“When Blach missed,” said Bochy returning to the subject at hand, “he just missed. He was right on, a very impressive outing for Ty and for Suarez.

Pitching invariably is ahead of hitting early in spring training — or that’s what we’ve been taught over the decades. Yet, the theory didn’t seem to have an effect on Nick Hundley or our old pal, Pablo Sandoval. In the second, Hundley hit a homer to left, the Giants' first run, and in the sixth Sandoval, swinging left-handed, hit one to right that nearly cleared the fence behind the fence. In other words, it was way out there, maybe 450 feet.

“I was focused,” said Sandoval. “I worked in the winter.”

Pablo is a link to the Giants’ three World Series titles. He caught the ball that was the ultimate out against Kansas City in 2014. Someone wondered if the new kids, the rookies, the hopefuls, asked him about those good not-so-old days.

“Yeah,” said Sandoval. “I tell them that we are better when we have fun, when we play together and not try to do everything individually but play as a team. We had great communication.

“We have an opportunity. The pitching here is great. We have to stick to our game, focus on the little things and get better every day.”

The monster home run in the first game of the spring was reassurance. “You can face your teammates,” said Sandoval. “Otherwise they’re going to be on you all spring.”

Bochy said again Sandoval will be used as a backup at first (where he played Friday) and third and as a pinch hitter. “That was a pretty good swing by Pablo, wasn’t it?” said Bochy. “A lot of good things happened.”

Excluding the errors, certainly, inexcusable for any major league team and especially one that last season was outscored by 137 runs. When you’re scraping for runs, you better scrape up ground balls or you’ll be the worst team in the division.

Oh, right. That’s what the Giants were.


A chill in the Giants camp

By Art Spander

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — “Frost,” the sign read. “Stay off grass.” No one-liners, please, even if the warning is so very Nor Cal. Besides, this was after the Giants had worked out Wednesday in weather chilly enough to keep observers bundled, but not chilly enough to keep young ballplayers from working out.

There’s a new field at the Giants' complex, with two infields. Not exactly as impressive as, say, the White Sox and Dodgers' facility 15 miles west at Glendale, where each team has a dozen diamonds apiece. But the Giants have civilization, which counts for something.

Not as much as some power hitting and relief pitching, of course. This spring training of 2018 is one of problems and questions. For the first time in years, San Francisco enters — let’s say it — as an also-ran, a team theoretically without hope.

The Giants bottomed out in 2017. A chill. A fall from the heights. Three World Series championships in five years, certainly. But that was then. Now is a muddle.

Will Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutcheon make that much of a difference? The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are locks, aren’t they, and the Rockies should make the postseason. The Padres were seven games in front of San Francisco and just signed Eric Hosmer for millions.

It is a sobering reminder that last season the Giants not only didn’t win four out of every 10 games, they finished 40 games behind the dreaded Dodgers. That seems impossible. It wasn’t.

Maybe it’s the temperature, the high down here just 61 degrees. Maybe it’s the reality. But for the Giants, the usual optimism of spring training seems absent. How do you pick up 20 games on the Dodgers, never mind 40? And how do you feel good wearing parkas in Arizona?

Giants manager Bruce Bochy spent a good part of Wednesday on that new back field, watching prospects such as Andres Blanco and Chase D’Arnaud. “I need to put the face with the name,” said Bochy, ”although I know them all. They have it a little tougher.”

He meant tougher than the veterans, who are not to be rushed. The Giants’ exhibition season opens Friday, split squad against Milwaukee, and Buster Posey will be watching, not playing, and probably a game or two after that. Posey is approaching 31. Catchers wear down.

Pablo Sandoval already is 31 and, at times, being dropped by Boston and then returning to the Giants in July 2017, already looked worn down. He hit .225 with five home runs in 47 games with San Francisco.

Bochy said Sandoval, with a history of being overweight, is in good shape. He’ll be used at third base and first base, backing up, and at times as a bullpen catcher. Where the Panda will not be used is in the outfield.

“We were playing one of those postseason games in Taiwan, a lot of major leaguers,” said Bochy. “I put Pablo in left field. There’s a line drive in the gap. He looks to his left at the center fielder, a speed guy (it was Curtis Granderson), as if, ‘That’s your ball.’

“But everything that’s happened to Pablo over the years hasn’t fazed him.”

What happened last season certainly fazed the Giants and their fans. The AT&T Park sellout streak ended at 530 games. Madison Bumgarner fell off a dirt bike and missed a couple of months. It was as if the baseball gods were making San Francisco pay for the glory of earlier years.

When Bumgarner went down, Ty Blach stepped up. And Blach will start the Cactus League opener on Friday. The usual contention is that exhibition games don’t mean anything, that pitchers are working to get in shape.

But for a team built on pitching, a team coming off a rotten year, these exhibition games over the next month could mean a great deal. They could make everyone, players and fans, believe.

“My job,” said Bochy, “is to get these guys ready for opening day.” Being ready does count. Being successful counts much more.



S.F. Examiner: Baseball bubble isolates from football foibles

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz — We’re in a bubble down here, Sesame Street with Saguaro.

The Niners are coming unglued. Bruce Miller arrested? What next? Jim Harbaugh coaching third for the A’s?

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner 


Lincecum leaves no-hitter without regret

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — A no-hitter? So? If there is an unwritten rule about yanking a pitcher who hasn’t allowed a hit sometime from mid-game on, well, it hasn’t been stated or tweeted to Bruce Bochy.

He manages not by tradition but by perception.

Sure, the boys (and girls) in the press box at AT&T Park on Wednesday afternoon had their questions, as undoubtedly did many in the sellout crowd of 41,186.

What the heck, little Timmy might not have been at his best, but through five he hadn’t permitted a hit by the Chicago Cubs. Shouldn’t Lincecum at least have had the chance to continue?

The answer, if not directly, was no. So Lincecum, who had the comfort of knowing there was a no-hitter from 2013 on his resume, and also on a day that ended with a 5-0 San Francisco Giants victory, had thrown 96 pitches in those five innings — and had developed a small blister — was content to leave.

Unlike current Giants broadcaster and former pitcher Mike Krukow, who in 1983 departed the mound under similar circumstances against the Cincinnati Reds.

Although Kruk had not allowed a hit through six — he had given up an unearned run on four walks — he was visited by then-Giants manager Frank Robinson, a rather demanding sort.

“You’re done,” Robinson told Krukow.

“But, but,” stammered Krukow.

“You’re done,” repeated Robinson.

Bochy was considerably more tactful and Lincecum more accepting.

“There was no chance he was going to finish,” said Bochy of Lincecum. Not when Tim had thrown nearly 100 pitches — 30 in the oh-what-might-have-happened first inning — and the game still had at least four innings to play.

“He worked so hard. It was time.”

Lincecum shrugged his consent.

“I think it’s easy,” said Lincecum of being relieved, “because I know what our bullpen is capable of.”

That would be to continue the shutout, if not the no-hitter, which was broken up with one out in the seventh by Cubs catcher John Baker, a local kid who graduated from De La Salle High in Concord and played ball at Cal.

George Kontos got the victory, because he was pitching for the Giants when they finally scored a couple of runs off Chicago’s Edwin Jackson in the sixth.

The Giants took two out of three from the Cubs, winning Tuesday and Wednesday on shutouts and extending a string of scoreless innings, by San Francisco and against Chicago, to 20.

One is reminded about the comment by the late football coach John McKay who, while at USC, told a young journalist, “Defense wins, because if the other team doesn’t score it’s impossible to lose.”

Over the last two days by the Bay, the Cubs didn’t score. 

They came close. A smash down by the line by Starlin Castro with two on was grabbed by third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who threw out Castro, and then immediately after that a line drive to right by Nate Schierholtz went just foul.

“Pablo kept everything where he it had to be,” said Lincecum. “Zero runs.”

Sandoval, who was hitting something like .161 not too long ago, had two singles Wednesday and raised his average to .246. Not All-Star stuff yet, but no longer embarrassing.

When he brought home Angel Pagan in the sixth, Sandoval had recorded an RBI for the eighth straight game, six of which were Giants victories.

“He’s in such a good zone right now,” Bochy said of Sandoval.

The Giants were 3-0 against the Twins at AT&T, then 2-1 against the Cubs. “This win made for a real nice home stand,” said a very satisfied Bochy.

San Francisco, on the road starting Thursday night at St. Louis, has the best record in baseball. At the moment. The status is fluid. Only a week ago it was the team across the Bay, the Oakland A’s, who had the best mark. Then they lost five in a row.

What could happen to the Giants out there in Middle America is unknown, but they do have a team earned run average of 3.03, second in the National League to the Atlanta Braves.

And they also have the reassurance of knowing that the motorized scooter stolen from outfielder Hunter Pence has been returned.

“We,” quipped Bochy, “can all sleep tonight.”

Zzz, zzz, zzz.