SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval took fly balls in left field during the spring. He caught a bullpen session. A year after starting at second base, he tried to keep that option open, too.
The Giants' switch-hitter has embraced versatility over the last year, or tried to, in order to get extra time on the field, but thus far his role has been as traditional as it gets. He has made two starts at third base and one at first, and in both games of this series, he was the designated hitter. Otherwise, Sandoval has 17 appearances off the bench.
That's the role that was expected as the Giants broke camp, but Sandoval has put his own twist on things: He has been more dangerous than any Giants hitter through a month, making a strong case that he should be more of a fixture for one of the worst lineups in the majors.
"There's no real good way to do it except give Longo the occasional day off," manager Bruce Bochy said before Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Blue Jays. "The thing that I like about Pablo is he's able to sit and maintain his swing and go up there and give you a good at-bat, so whether it's Belt or Longo taking a day, Pablo will start occasionally. If you're talking on a daily basis, it's just hard to do."
Perhaps the Giants need to find a way, though.
Sandoval's homer Wednesday, his second in two games in Toronto, left the bat at 112 mph (he later had an out at 111 mph). It was the hardest-hit ball of the season by a Giant, and by the end of the day Sandoval had a .333 average and 1.027 OPS. He would easily lead the team in OPS if he qualified, and he currently leads the Giants in doubles (7) despite starting just five games.
The problem is that Sandoval can't really be anything but an emergency option at any position but first and third. First baseman Brandon Belt is the team's best hitter overall and locked into the lineup, although perhaps the Giants will give him more time in left to clear some playing time. The staff has shown no inclination to give Sandoval more time at third, where Evan Longoria has a .655 OPS and three homers.
Sandoval enjoyed two days as a starter in Toronto, picking up four hits. But it'll be back to the pinch-hitting role when the Giants return home Friday, and it's a role nobody is doing better right now. Sandoval leads the National League with six pinch-hits, five of which have been doubles. He has scored three runs and driven in two as a pinch-hitter, repeatedly kickstarting late-game rallies.
"A lot of Pablo's hits are coming off the bench, too, so that works," Bochy said. "It's nice to have a batter sitting on the bench and when you need a big hit, he's ready to go. A lot of those at-bats come with men on base and later in the game, and I've got a pretty nice weapon there."