Rewind: Bochy considers Operation Panda Drop

Rewind: Bochy considers Operation Panda Drop
April 17, 2014, 6:00 pm
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Pablo Sandoval is batting .175 this year after going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Thursday. (AP)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval might find himself dropped in the lineup when the Giants arrive at Petco Park on Friday.

Well, hey. At least he’ll be at Petco Park.

Have you forgotten what Sandoval did in his last game there? Back on Sept. 4, he pulled a full Verlander and smashed three home runs off Padres pitchers. That day in San Diego represented 21 percent of the home runs Sandoval hit all last season.

Of course, the Giants were playing for nothing but stats at that point. They were out of contention. And Sandoval was finishing up a disappointing season that included another DL stint and more consternation about his calorie counting ability.

He is in better shape now, and he coaxed a tiebreaking single to win Wednesday’s game. But he has not gobbled up many other RBI opportunities in the No. 3 spot. He missed two chances to drive in runs in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the at-bats are getting so off-kilter that Giants manager Bruce Bochy is considering Operation Panda Drop.

[RECAP: Dodgers 2, Giants 1]

“Maybe I’ll drop him down in the order,” Bochy said after the Giants failed to complete a series sweep of their archrivals. “I’ll try to take some pressure off him. He’s a good hitter and we need him.”

Sandoval, who is hitting .175 after four empty trips Thursday, has insisted his impending free agency hasn’t distracted him and Bochy met with him privately to remind him that can’t happen. 

“He’s hired someone to take care of that,” Bochy said. “His job is to go out and play.”

Moving Sandoval down also could break up the run of right-handed bats -- Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Michael Morse, plus Joaquin Arias or Brandon Hicks -- down the order. But it’s a short-term adjustment. Sandoval is one of the main run producers on this team, and that’s who the Giants need him to be.

Sandoval has come to the plate with 43 runners on base, the most of anyone on the team. Yet he has just six RBI, or one more than pitcher Madison Bumgarner.

The good news: At least they don’t need him to hit three home runs. A timely knock here or there will be enough if the pitching staff keeps delivering the way it did on the back end of this 5-4 homestand.

The Giants remained in striking distance despite facing Hyun-Jin Ryu, a lefty who hasn’t allowed a run in 26 road innings this season. More quality relief pitching, with Jeremy Affeldt contributing two scoreless innings in his season debut, helped to keep the game close enough for the Giants to bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth and ninth.

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As for Madison Bumgarner, his 99 pitches only got him through 4 1/3 innings, but plate umpire Seth Buckminster had a lot to do with that.

“I felt I made some pretty good pitches there and they didn’t go my way in some big situations,” Bumgarner said, diplomatically. “I‘m trying to make pitches and I thought I did a decent job of it, and it didn’t go our way.”

Bumgarner said he had some of his best stuff all year and credited himself with not letting the tight zone -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly did his fair share of carping, too -- take him out of his game.

Through four starts, Bumgarner has retired just one batter after the sixth inning. That’s not going to continue, taking into account his stuff and track record.

The Giants hope it’ll turn for Sandoval, too.