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Sandoval finally breaks through in most Panda way possible

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It got lost in the shuffle Sunday, because so much attention was paid to yet another bullpen collapse and any extra air was sucked up by the position player on the mound, but Pablo Sandoval finally played third base over the weekend. 

Sandoval was out there for the first time since having Tommy John surgery last summer, but this wasn't necessarily a moment to celebrate. The Giants were getting blown out, and manager Gabe Kapler simply wanted to get Evan Longoria off his feet. Sandoval, once a superstar at Oracle Park, was left with mop-up duty, which was more than he had been getting most days, frankly. 

It was notable on the last trip that Sandoval was no longer getting DH starts against right-handed pitchers, and questions started to get asked about his role. Sandoval likely was spared when MLB decided not to cut rosters down to 26 at any point this season, but he wasn't playing much. He didn't let that impact the way he interacted with teammates and Kapler, though. Kapler said Sandoval approached him a day after soaking up innings in a blowout. The manager had felt kind of bad, because that's usually not a spot for such an established player. 

"He came up to me and said I never had to (explain) with him and he's going to be ready for any situation, and he thinks everybody should take the same mindset," Kapler said. 

The Giants brought Sandoval back nearly as much for his clubhouse contributions as his pinch-hitting ability. Sandoval charmed Kapler at a lunch in Miami over the offseason that was intended to be a meet-and-greet with younger Giants, and he sent his new manager progress-update videos as he rehabbed his elbow injury. 

 

But at some point, you still have to produce, and in Tuesday's 8-2 win over the Angels, Sandoval finally did. He hit a two-run homer early off Dylan Bundy, smoking a 91 mph fastball that was up around his eyes. The pitch was 4.01 feet off the ground and was the highest pitch hit out by a Giant in six years. 

The Giants have brought in a new coaching staff that preaches good swing decisions above all else, but sometimes you just have to let a player be himself. That was as Pablo Sandoval a swing as there has ever been, and it left his new manager comparing him to Vladimir Guerrero. 

"He was very similar. You would never tell him to take balls at his shoe tops, because he can hit homers on them," Kapler said. "The profile that Pablo has is one we know how to already appreciate and evaluate."

Sandoval later added an RBI double to left that Kapler was just as impressed with. Sandoval has spent weeks trying to get the ball in the air more, and on this day, it paid off. 

Sandoval's best day of the season nudged his average above .200, but he's still slugging just .278. In a short season, a start like that could bury a player, but Kapler has been patient. He has repeatedly shown faith in Sandoval, Hunter Pence and the Brandons, and over the last few games, Belt and Crawford have put it together. They each had a pair of hits Tuesday, helping to boost a lineup that gave the bullpen a lead it couldn't blow this time. 

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The Giants actually have been pretty competitive offensively, and for the first time, Sandoval was a big part of that. It was a validating day for a player who is going through more than the public knows, Kapler said. Sandoval missed one day last week for personal reasons. He has not spoken to the media since the spring. 

"Pablo has gone through some stuff this year, and I think everybody has. There are a lot of people that have dealt with family issues and things away from the field and things we don't have that much control and power over, and Pablo is no exception," Kapler said. "He struggled through those things and has shown a lot of fight. It hasn't been easy to date for him, and he continues to come to the ballpark every day and put on a smile and show a lot of grit. That's what I've seen from Pablo recently."