PHILADELPHIA — If letting Pablo Sandoval bat in the ninth inning helps show Dave Dombrowski that Sandoval has no logical place on the roster these days, then Red Sox manager John Farrell might be more calculating than you think.
It’s sink or swim time for Sandoval, and Farrell’s top boss seems to want Sandoval to have that chance.
Chris Sale let the Sox bullpen breathe on Thursday night, returning to his most dominant form with his ninth double-digit strikeout game of the season in a 1-0 loss to the Phillies.
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Three out of four wins vs. the Phillies is fine. But check back in October to see if Thursday’s loss stings more after the fact. In a sport where the best teams win 60 percent of the time, there might not be a game all season where the match-up better favors the Red Sox: a terrible team vs. the ace.
The way it ended, with an ugly Sandoval strikeout on a pitch way out of the zone and down, created some bad optics.
Why have Sandoval bat if Hanley Ramirez is available off the bench, Manager John?
He was quick with his answer after the game: he did not consider pinch-hitting Sandoval with Phillies closer Hector Neris on the mound.
“No,” Farrell said. “Not against a right-hander, no.”
What a dummy, right?
Look deeper. Farrell has been starting Josh Rutledge over Sandoval lately. This isn’t some sort of Sandoval love affair for the manager.
It’s one of two things, or maybe a combination thereof. Sticking by players usually includes letting them have at-bats. That’s an easy explanation. It’s the reason Chris Young batted against a right-hander early last season and everyone flipped out.
How else to get Sandoval going than to give him a chance, than to convince Sandoval he’s believed in? It’s not always defensible, but, managers do make choices for that reason.
Look even deeper, though. We already can tell Farrell doesn’t believe much in Sandoval. Rutledge’s usage lately shows us that.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, meanwhile, seems to be of the mindset that Sandoval needs a chance.
“I think you also have to remember that Pablo has done everything that we asked him to do,” Dombrowski said before the game. “He got himself in shape, he’s worked very hard. He’s continued to work hard. He’s worked on the dietary aspect of it. He’s worked on the skill aspect of it. When I came in here, he was working out. So he’s done everything he possibly can, he had a very good spring training.
"Early in the season his numbers weren’t great, but yet he hit the ball very hard. He was one of the top five in the league statistically as far as hard hit balls when he went down at that time. So he’s just come back for a short time period. I thought he had a very good game last night, offensively and defensively. So I think sometimes you have to give guys an opportunity before you just jump to the conclusions right away. And we’ll continue to monitor his situation. It’s up to him to do well and we’ll see what takes place.”
Sounds like the leader of the front office wants Sandoval to get at-bats, doesn’t it?
How many ABs would Dombrowski want to see, though, before deciding with Farrell on a course of action? To play him every day or cut him or whatever else?
“I can’t even answer that question,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t know that there is a 100 percent answer to that. Everybody’s different. Some guys get back quicker than others. In his case, he’s not playing per se every single day. He hasn’t been so far, at least. People forget he missed all of last year basically too. So I think that’s another part of it. So I don’t really have a certain number of specific at-bats.”
But he’s not there yet, it would seem. Again: sounds like the leader of the front office wants Sandoval to get at-bats, doesn’t it?
So if you’re Farrell, and Dombrowski wants Sandoval on the roster until some hazy number of at-bats are reached, you’re handcuffed. Don’t play him, and this grey-area at third base drags on. Play him, and give Sandoval a chance to get rolling — and a chance to show the top boss whether he truly can perform.
Sandoval’s played 29 games and has 105 plate appearances. It's not much. Different statistics stabilize after a different number of appearances, on average.
Dombrowski’s not exactly a stats wonk, though. He wants to see Sandoval play? Well, Farrell’s letting him. The visual’s saying something, and it might be exactly the message Farrell hopes is delivered.