OAKLAND — The worst part about undergoing Tommy John surgery, Pablo Sandoval said, is that he won’t be able to play anymore for Bruce Bochy.
“He’s like my dad,” said the San Francisco Giants third baseman, who has spent all but two and a half years of his 12-year career under the retiring manager. “He’s always wants the best for me.”
Having experienced a late-career renaissance that’s helped lift San Francisco into the playoff discussion, Sandoval’s season — and perhaps his Giants career career — may be over. He will have surgery the first week of September, and will be a free agent at the end of October.
“I’d have loved to have some fun with him here, the last five, six weeks, hopefully longer,” Bochy said. “He’s just so much fun. I just love his — I’ve said this so many times — his love for the game, his enthusiasm, every day he comes out with a smile on his face. We haven’t quite seen that because he’s mellowed down because of the injury.”
Sandoval has experienced pain in his right elbow since 2013, due to a collection of loose bodies. The pain he experienced during San Francisco’s last homestand, though, was different. An MRI showed the expected loose bodies in the back of his elbow, but it also showed damage to the ulnar collateral ligament. After multiple opinions, Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles weighed in: Sandoval needed to have reconstructive surgery on the torn ligament.
“He knows the process,” said trainer Dave Groeschner. “I mean, last year, he had his hamstring done. And that was a pretty major surgery. I know he came back in spring training look great and no really even asked about it, but he had to work his tail off at the end of last season and all winter long. I don’t anticipate anything different.”
While some non-pitchers can return with five months (the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani returned as a designated hitter), others take six. Sandoval wants to return to playing first and third base, which means he’s likely on closer to the sixth-month end of the spectrum.
“I’ve got more baseball in me,” Sandoval said. “This is not the end of my career. I just want to get healthy, get this fixed, and prove to people that I can still play baseball.”
Groeschner was confident that Sandoval would “likely” be ready in time for spring training.
“I’ve been in this situation before,” Sandoval said. “And now I know how to handle it, how to work hard and come back stronger for for next time or next year.”
After his hamstring surgery at the end of last season, Sandoval came back ready for spring and has had his best season since 2014. He hit .269 as a part-time player, getting 271 at-bats in 107 games. He tallied more hits (73), doubles (23), RBIs (41) than he had since 2015 and hit more home runs (14) than he’d hit since 2014. His on-base percentage was also his best since 2014 (.314), his slugging percentage (.504) was his best since an All-Star 2011 and his OPS+ (114) was his highest since 2013.
“This game is his life, and he’s got a lot of baseball left,” Bochy said. “He showed that this year.”
Sandoval will likely have to get his elbow scoped to remove the loose bodies, and then will undergo surgery performed by ElAttrache on Sept.3 or 4 in Los Angeles. He will then return to San Francisco to start rehab, and will remain with the team.
After being down for 14 days, Sandoval will likely begin riding a stationary bike to keep his fitness up — something that’s been a career-long struggle for him.
“We’re good going on the physical therapy right away,” Groeschner said. “He’s gonna need to, if he wants to come back and play next year, be ready. You can’t really miss many days. It’ll be a lot of work ahead of them. Certainly right when the offseason starts.”
While he won’t be under contract with the Giants past October, the training staff will monitor him as closely as possible, set up physical therapy and make recommendations.
“We’ve got a great relationship with Pablo, known him for years and years,” Groeschner said. “Beyond any of that contractual stuff, our medical staff, we want to see him back healthy.”
Asked about whether he’d prefer to sign with an American League team to come back quicker as a designated hitter, Sandoval demured.
This year, Sandoval had taken to bringing his family to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for afternoon services after day games, integrating himself into the San Francisco community that has made him a beloved figure. Even before the injury cropped up, Sandoval got emotional speaking about San Francisco. In the locker room last month, when asked what the City means to him, Sandoval got choked up. “A lot, man,” he said, shaking his head. “A lot.”
“I want to spend the rest of my career here,” he said on Saturday. “But I know it’s not my decision.”
Sandoval will be around the team when they are at home, but not getting to play for Bochy during the home stretch — San Francisco is six games out of the second National League wild card — will be tough, he said.
“Thank God He gave me opportunity play nine years for him and do everything I can for him on the field,” Sandoval said. “To be part of the three World Series is the most important thing with we did.”
There is an outside shot that Sandoval could get an at-bat when the team returns to San Francisco next week. Bochy said he would “love to” give the fans a chance to express their appreciation. “That’s a decision we’ll all have to make together,” Bochy said.
“He always cared about me,” Sandoval said. “So he wants me to go out and play? I’ll take one more at-bat. For him.”