Sandoval returns, apologizes to fans for way he left Giants

Sandoval returns, apologizes to fans for way he left Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — The first two steps of Pablo Sandoval’s second stint in San Francisco were positive. 

Sandoval showed up to AT&T Park on Saturday in decent shape, the kind that will allow him to go straight to the minors instead of spending a few weeks cutting pounds. He also said the right things, apologizing to fans for comments made in the months and year after he left the Giants for supposedly greener pastures. 

“I learned my lesson,” Sandoval said a few seconds after sitting down with reporters. “I made a lot of mistakes.”

Sandoval said he also needed to apologize to former teammates, many of whom have not forgotten a Bleacher Report article from Sandoval’s first spring with the Red Sox. 

Back then, Sandoval told Scott Miller the decision to leave San Francisco was “not hard at all.” On Saturday, he said there was simply a “miscommunication.”

Back then, Sandoval said, “I knew early in spring training last year I was going to leave.” On Saturday, he claimed that he would have come and said he’s “excited, excited to be back … I’m thankful to the Giants.”

Back then, Sandoval said he didn’t miss his former teammates. "Only Bochy," he told Bleacher Report. "I love Boch. He's like my dad. He's the only guy that I miss. And Hunter Pence. Just those guys.” On Saturday, Sandoval said, “If I mentioned a lot of people, it was going to be the whole roster … Hunter was like my brother and Bochy was like my dad.”

It will be up to the players and team employees to decide how they really feel three years later. Some, most notably Pence, have been effusive in their praise of the move. Others have been more guarded, and some have grumbled. And make no mistake about it, there are executives at high levels of the organization who do not agree with a reunion. Why do it, then? 

“You look at it as a free look at a player who has done some good things in this game and has the talent to hit  baseball,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Sometimes a change of scenery can get a player back to the player he was and he was pretty good here. This allows you to take a look and make a call if you think he can help you or not. There’s no guarantee.”

Bochy called it a “win-win” situation and said this was not a marketing move, but it certainly won’t hurt the organization’s affiliates. Sandoval will DH for the San Jose Giants on Saturday and join Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday. He is expected to get at least 40-50 at-bats before the Giants make a decision.

Sandoval said his shoulder, which ended his 2016 season, is healthy, and he has resumed switch-hitting. It has been three years since he has been a productive big leaguer, but he is still just 30 years old. 

“I have to prove a lot of things,” Sandoval said. “I hope to be back and doing the best (I can).”

The Giants did not guarantee a return to the big leagues, but the coast is clearing up. Eduardo Nuñez, the incumbent at third, is Bobby Evans’ best trade chip and could be gone by August 1. Christian Arroyo is on the minor league disabled list. Ryder Jones will play all over the field with Sandoval returning to Sacramento. Jae-gyun Hwang was optioned back to Triple-A on Saturday and faces an uncertain future in the organization. 

The history of this organization says that if Sandoval shows anything at all, he will be back at AT&T Park before the season is up. At that point, he’ll have to sit down with some teammates and coaches and possibly explain himself. There is more to this than an article written three years ago. It was an open secret that Sandoval was ready to move on, and he had some fun waving goodbye to fans at the 2014 parade. If and when he does return, Sandoval will hope for the best from a fan base that is divided on his return. He did his part to heal some wounds Saturday, signing autographs on his way out of the park.

For now, Sandoval said he’s ready for his second chance. 

“At the end of the day,” he said, “I’m happy to be back.”

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”

Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too


Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too

Will Clark won his first and only Gold Glove at first base for the Giants at age 27 in 1991. It was Clark's sixth year in the major leagues. 

Steven Duggar won't have to wait that long to win the biggest hardware for his defense in Clark's eyes. 

"He can play Gold Glove center field right now in the big leagues. He can flat out go get it in center field," Clark said on the Giants' prospect Tuesday on KNBR. "He can definitely, definitely play a Gold Glove center field." 

Clark, who now serves a role in the Giants' front office after playing in five straight All-Star Games for his former team from 1988-92, has watched Duggar closely for more than just this spring training. When asked about his feelings on the 24-year-old, Clark made them clear right away. 

"I've seen Steve parts of the last two seasons in the minor leagues and I am definitely a Steven Duggar fan," Clark said. 

The question with Duggar has always been his bat. He has elite speed, gets great jumps in center field and everyone from Bruce Bochy to Buster Posey has praised his ability to track down fly balls. 

"His thing is, how quick is he going to make the adjustment in the big leagues with the pitching. I know there's a lot of people that are asking that question right now," Clark. 

Count The Thrill as one of the leaders in Camp Duggar. He joined many others in complimenting his glove left and right. But what he has to say about the Clemson product's bat is what puts him over the top. 

"He's succeeded at each level he's been at," Clark pointed out. "He will do it at the major league level and I'm kind of staking my reputation on that."

This is confidence -- to say the least -- coming from someone who was a .303 lifetime hitter and bashed 284 home runs in 15 seasons. 

Over three years in the minor leagues, Duggar is a .292 career hitter with a .384 on-base percentage and .427 slugging percentage. Duggar started off scorching hot this spring with the Giants, but has cooled down with the Cactus League soon coming to a close. In 16 games, Duggar is slashing .250/.353/.545 and has shown more pop with four home runs.