It finally seems to be sinking in for Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval that he’ll need to earn his starting spot this season.
Apparently he has changed his tune after a few weeks in camp. Sandoval has gotten a bit of a rude awakening this spring that started with manager John Farrell effectively stating that rookie Travis Shaw would compete for the starting third base job. Sandoval won’t have anything handed to him and playing time won’t be decided by the size of his contract. He has to earn it.
To his credit, Sandoval appears ready to step up to the challenge and won’t give up his role as a starter without a fight.
"“Every guy’s trying to make the team, especially me, I’m trying to make the team,” Sandoval told WEEI’s John Tomase on Sunday. “I have to prove a lot to my teammates, my team, the staff that I can be better and better.”"
This determination to prove himself contradicts the attitude Sandoval showed up to camp with, but it’s the spark that the Red Sox needed to see from him entering the season. He has seen what Shaw has done this spring, tearing the cover off the ball to the tune of a .441/.472/.676 slash line, leading him to realize that the 25-year old poses a serious threat.
The extra motivation has pushed him to step up his game. Sandoval is only hitting .250 this spring, but he owns a .847 OPS that ranks sixth on the team among hitters with at least 10 games played. He has hit a pair of home runs, including one that he crushed to dead center field on Saturday. His swing from the right side of the plate appears much improved from last season when he was forced to abandon his switch-hitting approach and he’s driving the ball better.
"“You have to earn everything. You have to work hard. You have to compete. Things are more interesting when you compete. I don’t have a problem competing with every guy here. At the same time, we have a good arrangement, because we’re teammates. We’re working to be better for each other to make the team better. That’s good.”"
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Sandoval has shown a very nonchalant attitude in the past when questioned about his disappointing first season with the Red Sox. He claimed that statistics don’t matter. He denied that the team insisted that he lose weight. He was apparently the only person who wasn’t disappointed by the results of last season. He didn’t seem to care.
Now he cares, or at least he’s doing a better job of pretending that he does. He wants to be the starting third baseman on Opening Day, but he’s aware that Farrell has other options to turn to. Sandoval claims that he will be “cool” with it if the manager tells him that the starting job is going to someone else and will focus on contributing any way he can when he gets an opportunity. He just wants to win.
Whether or not Sandoval is being sincere or if he was simply given some good advice about saying the right things remains to be seen, but he certainly seems more motivated than he was when he first got to Fort Myers.
Shaw might run away with the competition, leaving Sandoval to sulk on the bench. But maybe, just maybe, the threat of losing his spot was the push Sandoval needed to wake him from the funk he’s been in since signing with the Red Sox.