Buster Posey said Pablo Sandoval has been looking more “like himself” in the batter’s box over the past week, starting about the time Giants manager Bruce Bochy opted to put Sandoval, then hitting a meager .173, in the cleanup spot for last Sunday’s series finale against the Dodgers.
“He’s able to swing aggressively with some bad intent behind it,” Posey said. “But not out of control.”
Starting that day in Los Angeles, Sandoval has 13 hits in his past 32 at-bats, including his 2-for-4 outing in the Giants’ 4-1 win over the Miami Marlins on Sunday at AT&T Park. Sandoval singled during the Giants’ three-run first inning, and in the fifth, he drove a first-pitch fastball from right-hander Jacob Turner into the left-field seats for his first home run since April 13.
They were the latest indications that Sandoval, who extended his current hitting streak to nine games, may be emerging from a slump that essentially began Opening Day. His batting average dipped below .200 on April 2 and didn’t resurface above that point until Wednesday. It’s now .220, having jumped nearly 50 points the past nine games.
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Friday night, following his first multi-extra-base hit game since September, Sandoval said he was feeling “a lot better” at the plate and trying to keep a simple approach. As he has all season, he said he “(doesn’t) worry too much about my average – just try to get a good at-bat out there, try to put the barrel on the ball.”
Still, it’s evident Sandoval has put more barrels on balls the past two weeks, with Bochy saying after Sunday’s game that Sandoval’s “at-bats have really picked up.”
“His point of contact has changed,” Bochy said. “He’s getting the barrel out there in front a little bit more, and consequently, he’s driving the ball a little better and handling the ball (inside) much better than what he was.
“He’s quieted down out there to where he can handle all pitches, where he was lunging a little bit before.”
With the Giants leading 1-0 in the first on Posey’s sacrifice fly that drove in Gregor Blanco, Sandoval lined a single to right off Turner. It was the first of four consecutive two-out hits by the Giants, who scored eight of their 15 runs in this four-game series with two outs and lead the majors with 86 two-out RBIs.
The early three-run cushion benefited right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who received just six runs of support in his previous six starts. He threw seven scoreless innings, allowing five hits and striking out six, and Sandoval added an insurance run with his first homer in 108 at-bats.
Theories for the cause of Sandoval’s early slump included his looming free agency and heightened expectations, and Bochy said Sunday the third baseman “had a lot on his plate and probably put a little added pressure on himself.” Still, Bochy said he believed “it was a matter of time before he came around” – a sentiment Bochy echoed discussing Vogelsong.
Vogelsong went 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA in his first four starts, capped by an awful outing in Colorado in which he allowed five runs before exiting with one out in the second inning. In five starts since, he has a 1.62 ERA, and the Giants have won four of those five games.
Against the Marlins, Vogelsong located his fastball well and enhanced its effectiveness by setting it up with his off-speed pitches. He did not allow a runner past second until the fifth, when the Marlins put men on second and third with two outs. But shortstop Brandon Crawford made a diving play on Adeiny Hechavarria’s grounder up the middle to end the inning.
Vogelsong joked his game plan was “getting ground balls to Crawford.” But he got more serious when asked if he’d felt early in the season he could turn things around.
“You have to believe that,” he said. “If not, you’re behind the eight ball to begin with.
“Some of the stuff (people) were saying about Pablo and other people, they were saying a lot of it is mental, and it’s true. First of all, you have to stop digging a hole to get out of it. And second, you have to believe you can do it. When (the team) believes in you, too, that goes a long way.”
With Vogelsong and Sandoval playing major roles, the Giants split this series and finished a trying stretch of 17 games in 17 days with an 11-6 record, despite losing first baseman Brandon Belt to a broken thumb and missing outfielder Angel Pagan on Sunday with what an MRI revealed is a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder.
“These are two guys that we need to have success, Vogey being a starter and Pablo in the heart of the lineup,” Bochy said. “When you lose a Belt, what has to happen is somebody else picks it up. And Pablo has done that.”