Kruk & Kuip: The Giants found another way to lose
CINCINNATI – The Giants wouldn’t do it. Many fans might say they should.
But could they? Yes, absolutely, the Giants could option Pablo Sandoval to Triple-A Fresno. For a limited time only.
The Giants have never used an option on Sandoval in his career. Players by rule have the right to refuse a minor league assignment once they get five years of service time in the big leagues. And that date for Sandoval will arrive Aug. 2.
Purely from a baseball evaluation standpoint, when you wipe clean the names on the jerseys and the statistics before this season and the three home runs in Game 1 of the World Series last October, Sandoval is not a major league hitter right now.
He was 0 for 5 with three strikeouts in the Giants’ 3-2, 11-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park Wednesday night. He is 3 for 33 in nine games since returning from the disabled list, and that includes a pair of hits in his first game back from that foot strain.
Entering this lost road trip, upon which the Giants are 1-8 with one game to play, Sandoval had struck out three times in a game on just four occasions in his career. He’s done it twice on this trip.
And if it’s at all possible, the swings look worse than a guy riding a 3-for-33. Sandoval struck out on a 55-foot pitch at his feet in the eighth inning. He is swinging through high fastballs. And the pitches he can handle? The bat speed doesn’t appear to be anything close to what it was in the past. Even balls off good wood aren’t traveling.
How is this the same hitter who turned around chin high and 95 mph out of Justin Verlander’s hand?
“Everything is going the wrong way,” Sandoval told me after the game. “My timing is not so good. I’m trying to do the best I can. I fight every day, see if something good will happen.”
He is watching video of better times with hitting coach Hensley Meulens, hoping he can find something to disinfect a jumpy right-handed swing and a left-handed cut that is even more out of whack.
“It looks like he’s not seeing the ball well,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s just one of ‘em. You get in these things and start pressing …
“We know what a good hitter he is. It just looks like he’s not seeing the ball and doesn’t have his timing.”
Sandoval’s WAR, or wins above replacement, is 0.3 – the lowest among all regulars in the Giants lineup. His on-base percentage is down to .303 and his slugging percentage is at .384 – plunging from the career .490 slugging percentage he had to start the season.
Even before the foot injury, he wasn’t holding up his end in the middle of the order.
Sandoval isn’t the only one struggling. Not by a longshot. It almost seems impossible that a major league lineup could be this bad for this long, but Sandoval (1 for his last 30), Gregor Blanco (0 for 22) and Brandon Crawford (0 for 21) – a third of the lineup – is riding slumps that add up to 1 for 73.
That is 1 as in one. And 73 at-bats.
Hunter Pence is 2 for 25, too.
“Pablo and myself, we’re better hitters than what’s happened so far,” Pence said.
Sandoval just sticks out more, and on a literal level. When he struggles, fair or not, related or unrelated, his conditioning will be howled over in all corners.
Threatening Sandoval with a demotion to the minors might be a strong motivating tool, as it was following the 2010 season. But the Giants need Sandoval. No matter how he looks at the plate or in his bloused-out uniform, he does have that name on his back and stats on the back of his baseball card. You have to sink or swim with your core guys, and Sandoval is right in the middle of the Giants’ lineup.
They could give him a day off Thursday afternoon, if the heavy rain in the forecast allows them to get on the field. (Joaquin Arias’ hamstring is balky, but he finally played the field for the first time in nine days.) Or Bochy could drop Sandoval in the lineup and move up Brandon Belt, who at least looks capable of finding an extra-base hit with a metal detector and six miles of empty beach.
No, they wouldn’t dump their World Series MVP in the Pacific Coast League. But they could.
“I read this somewhere: If you’re going through hell, keep going,” Pence said.
If you wind up in Fresno, where it was 115 degrees last week, would you know the difference?