ORACLE PARK — Pablo Sandoval hit two of the hardest balls of any San Francisco Giant this season yesterday against the Colorado Rockies, one of them — a 114-mph double — was the hardest-hit ball by any Giant since 2016. It was nothing new: He owns 11 of the top 15 exit velocities on the team this season, all over 110 mph.
What was new: He wasn’t around to talk about it afterward. He had to go to church. No fooling: He and his family go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the 5:15 evening service after every day game.
It’s part of the all-important baseball routine for Sandoval, who, in his 12th big league season, is in the midst of a career season despite being only a part-time player. As Sandoval experiences a renaissance at age 32, he may be hitting his way out of the only place he’s ever truly produced.
“You don’t see it very often,” Bochy said. “It’s impressive what he’s been doing. I mentioned this yesterday: We’re not grinding him out there every day, and that’s helpful.”
Sandoval has played in 72 of 79 games — one more than starting third baseman Evan Longoria — even though he’s a nominally part-time player. The big difference: He only has 172 plate appearances, compared to Longoria’s 267. By keeping Sandoval to spot starts and pinch hitting duty, San Francisco has ensured that their longtime totem keeps producing during his age-32 season.
Sandoval currently has a share in the team lead in batting, slugging and home runs, despite nearly 100 fewer plate appearances than regular starters.
Sandoval’s .288 average is tops on the team among regulars, as is his .575 slugging percentage — by far the best of his career. He’s tied for the lead with 10 homers — one more than his totals for each of the last two seasons in 92 and 79 games, respectively. He’s hitting one homer per 16 at-bats, better than his career-best in that category (18.5 in his 2011 All-Star season). On a team ranked No. 28 in the Major Leagues in runs scored, he’s one of the only offensive bright spots.
“You keep him fresh, and I think as long as we do that, he’ll continue to keep doing what he’s doing,” Bochy said. “Not that he couldn’t go out there, but it is impressive how, at this stage, how he’s still swinging the bat. To hit balls as hard as he’s hitting it, as far as he’s hitting it, you’re seeing the velocity off the bat. It’s pretty impressive.”
Sandoval’s barrel percentage is 15.1% — the highest since StatCast began measuring. His previous high was 6.7% in 2017. His barrels per plate appearance percentage is 18th in the Majors. His average home run distance is 66th.
His average exit velocity is up to 90.3 mph off the bat, in the top third of Major Leaguers this season. His previous high was 89.6 mph last season. His hard-hit percentage: 47.5%, his highest in the StatCast era. His previous high was 36.9%, last season. More interesting still: His strikeout percentage is his lowest since 2015, at 18.5%. Not only is he swinging hard, but he’s making his contact count as arguably the best offensive weapon on a team largely devoid of offense.
“You can see, he’s at the top as far as hard-hit balls, the top velocity on our club,” Bochy said. “That’s how well he’s been swinging.”
The question regarding Sandoval is whether or not this resurgence earns him a ticket out of the Bay Area. If he continues apace, he could be a valuable bat off the bench for a contending team, especially given his positional versatility, playing both first and third, with the cameo at second, not to mention his other talents. Given how ugly his stint in Boston was, maybe Sandoval’s magic only works in orange and black. Or, since his ill-fated turn with the Red Sox, it’s more likely that he’s matured. He’s certainly turned into a leader in the clubhouse, regularly holding court in his corner with the other Spanish-speaking players.
As the Giants fall further and further out of contention, Madison Bumgarner and closer Will Smith won’t be the only players teams will be asking after.
After hitting leadoff the last two games, Brandon Belt will bat second against Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Alex Young, making his big league debut. Bochy said previously that he’d like to keep Belt at the top of the order, but the exception will be against southpaws. Instead, it will be Donovan Solano leading off for San Francisco.
Solano, batting .296 on the year in 24 games, but he’s hitting a blistering .323 against left-handers with a .400 on-base percentage and a .387 slugging percentage, compared to .261/.250/.261 against righties.
“[Belt] may lead off against lefties, too, but with Solano in there, he’s been swinging the bat fairly well,” Bochy said.
Against right-handers, Belt would lead off and Solano may hit second, if he’s giving either Brandon Crawford or Joe Panik a day off in the middle infield.
After a white-hot start, Alex Dickerson is out of the lineup for a bit of rest. He’s played in every game since coming to San Francisco, but had a bit of a layoff between being designated for assignment and being picked up by the Giants in a trade earlier this month.
“He’s gone six in a row. He had a little bit of a break from playing, he’d been playing a lot early, but when you take some time off, you have to be a little careful and cautious,” Bochy said.
Dickerson, hitting .429 with a home run, four doubles and 10 RBIs in his first six games with San Francisco, is available to pinch hit and for a double switch.
Outfielder Steven Duggar (back) hit early in the day, and will both hit and run the bases on Friday. If all goes well, Bochy said, he’ll be off to a rehab assignment on Saturday with Triple-A Sacramento for a few games before returning to the Majors.
“You could tell today just watching him, he’s fine,” Bochy said.