Red Sox need Pablo Sandoval to hit left-handed pitching

Feb 28, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) singles during the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) singles during the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Pablo Sandoval’s strong spring is an encouraging sign that the Red Sox third baseman can bounce back, although questions remain about if he can hit lefties.

Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval‘s quest for redemption is off to a solid start. Not only did he arrive in camp noticeably slimmer, he’s also been among the team’s more productive hitters this spring.

Sandoval sports an impressive .333/.350/.615 slash line through 39 at-bats this spring. He’s tied for the team lead with three homers and second with 11 RBI. This performance is in stark contrast to a year ago when his dismal display in camp cost him his role as a starter.

While the results have been encouraging, questions still remain about whether or not the Red Sox can rely on Sandoval to be their everyday third baseman. Putting aside concerns about his health and weight that he’s adequately overcome, Sandoval needs to prove that he won’t be a liability in the lineup against left-handed pitching.

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Over the past three seasons, Sandoval owns a brutal .199 average and .522 OPS against lefties. He had some success against southpaws earlier in his career but they’ve become a puzzle he simply hasn’t been able to crack in recent years. His struggles became so severe that he temporarily abandoned his switch-hitting approach during the 2015 season, yet still finished below the Mendoza Line against lefties that year.

After a shoulder injury essentially wiped out his entire season last year, the Red Sox are still waiting for Sandoval to show he can hit lefties. As great as he’s looked at the plate this spring, he only has one hit in six at-bats against left-handed pitching.

Sandoval will get the start on Monday against old friend Wade Miley, batting second in order to improve his chances of seeing multiple plate appearances against the lefty. The Red Sox want to give Sandoval every opportunity to prove himself this spring and need to test him in situations like this to determine how reliable he can be once the games begin to count.

If Sandoval can’t cut it against lefties, the Red Sox aren’t left with many appealing alternatives. Brock Holt springs to mind as the first bat off the bench to cover virtually any position, but he’s not an ideal platoon partner at third after a dismal 4-for-39 (.103)  display against lefties last year.

Short of convincing Chris Young or Blake Swihart to give third base a try, there are no obvious solutions to platoon with Sandoval.

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One option the Red Sox could turn to is Marco Hernandez, who has a shot at making the Opening Day roster as a utility infielder. He made 10 appearances at the hot corner during his brief tenure in Boston last season and went 4-for-8 at the plate against lefties. While that’s clearly a minuscule sample size, Hernandez hit .342 against southpaws in the minors last season. Carrying a left-handed bat on the bench to face lefties may seem unorthodox, yet his rare reverse splits suggest the option is worth considering.

According to Masslive’s Christopher Smith, the Red Sox are also experimenting with Steve Selsky at third base. While he’s never played the position in the big leagues, a successful transition would give the Red Sox additional insurance in the event Sandoval doesn’t stick in the lineup against lefties. The right-handed Selsky has caught the eye of manager John Farrell this spring by hitting .295 with a .943 OPS this spring. He has yet to record a hit against a lefty, but was 5-for-10 in limited time against them with the Cincinnati Reds last season.

Can the left-handed bat of Hernandez continue to find success against lefty pitching? Will Selsky be able to handle third base? Are there any other options on the Red Sox 40-man roster that can do both? Possibly, although these aren’t proven options.

Benching Sandoval against lefties would risk shattering his fragile confidence. If his recent struggles against them extend into the regular season then Farrell can’t hesitate for long before making a move. If he does force Sandoval into a platoon then he better be certain that whoever he plugs in against lefties can get the job done. The Red Sox have few alternative options and none of them are a sure thing.

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Ideally, Sandoval will show improvement batting from the right side, getting back to the switch-hitting approach that he was successful with for years in San Francisco. Allowing him to settle into a regular routine rather than yanking him in and out of the lineup based on matchups would go a long way toward reviving his dormant value.