Sandoval’s prep is still influencing players
Yastrzemski said he learned how to prepare for pinch-hit at-bats from Panda
On Opening Day in Philadelphia, Phillies ace Aaron Nola was putting the finishing touches on a masterpiece when an Atlanta Braves pinch-hitter stepped into the batter’s box.
With two strikes and two outs, Nola was one strike away from completing seven shutout innings. Then he threw Pablo Sandoval an inside fastball and a banner day was ruined.
Sandoval turned on the pitch and deposited a game-tying tworun blast into the right-field bleachers at Citizens Bank Park. The 92-mile per hour four-seamer left Sandoval’s bat at 111 miles per hour, giving him 150 career home runs on the first day of his 14th season in the major leagues.
Up in Seattle where the Giants were preparing for a season-opener against the Mariners, Sandoval’s old teammates couldn’t have been surprised. Some of them still pattern their approach as a pinchhitter based on the way they watched the Panda prepare.
“It’s really cool to be able to learn from guys like Pablo who did really well in pinch-hit situations,” outfielder Mike Yastrzemski said.
Yastrzemski, who had his locker stationed next to Sandoval’s in the Giants home clubhouse during the 2019 season, has clearly benefitted from studying his former teammate.
With Monday’s series opener in San Diego tied 2-2, Yastrzemski came off the bench to pinchhit in the seventh inning and drilled a 2-0 fastball from Padres reliever Craig Stammen over the center field wall. The Giants won 3-2 thanks to the outfielder’s tie-breaking blast, which marked his second career pinchhit home run.
Sandoval, a career .310 hitter with an .856 OPS in pinch-hit spots, has four career pinch homers.
“I just watched him when he was getting ready for his at-bat,” Yastrzemski said of Sandoval. “Everybody knows him as this
fun-loving guy, but the second there was a pinch-hit opportunity, he was quiet about his business, made sure that he was completely mentally checked in and ready to take his at-bat.”
During two stints as a Giant that spanned a combined 11 seasons, Sandoval was one of the loudest players in the dugout and one of the most approachable and talkative players in the clubhouse. He was clearly viewed as a leader by younger and less experienced players, but he didn’t always lead with his words.
When it came to preparing for pinch-hit situations, Sandoval’s process did all the talking.
“To see that and learn without even asking questions, just being able to observe him and see how he prepared, what his mentality was and what his routine was is what’s really helped me in those situations,” Yastrzemski said.
With the way the Giants’
roster is constructed, the ability to thrive in pinchhit situations will be critical to the team’s overall success this season. Of the 13 position players on the 26-man roster, all but backup catcher Curt Casali are seen by the front office and coaching staff as regular starters.
A few right-handed hitters such as Darin Ruf will make the vast majority of their starts against lefthanded pitchers while a handful of lefties including Tommy La Stella will mostly start when the Giants face righties, but every player is expected to be available off the bench on a nightly basis.
“The way we did things last year and are doing things this year, it’s kind of second nature for me,” said Alex Dickerson, who hit a pinch-hit home run on Opening Night in Seattle. “As a guy that’s had several injuries and it takes me a little longer to warm up, the anthem happens, I watch an inning or two and
then I start doing some sort of movement inside.”
Dickerson didn’t start Monday’s game against San Diego southpaw Adrián Morejón, but he knew as soon as the Padres turned to a right-hander in the bullpen, he would be pressed into action. By the sixth inning, Dickerson was in the game.
“I would say by the third inning of any game, I’m already ready to go in in some way, shape or form,” Dickerson said. “It’s just a process. Everybody is different. There are some people who can pick up a bat and walk right into the box. I used to be able to do that.”
If the Giants are going to stay competitive in a tough National League West, they’ll need contributions up and down the roster. As they’ve already showed through four games, those contributions are welcome at any point and from any player, regardless of who’s starting and who’s coming off the bench.