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Sandoval proves his worth off Giants' bench

Slugger says he's healthy, happy to be back in fold
MLB.com @sfgiantsbeat

SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants infielder Pablo Sandoval is demonstrating that a team should be judged not by its star performers, but by its subordinates.

After all, improving upon a ballclub's top players is often difficult. But reserves constitute the base upon which the roster rests. If a team's bench is weak, its regulars need not sustain excellence to hold onto their status. Or they must bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility for success. Yet, when a lineup is backed by a strong bench, the quality of its regulars tends to remain high, because they're being pushed to excel.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants infielder Pablo Sandoval is demonstrating that a team should be judged not by its star performers, but by its subordinates.

After all, improving upon a ballclub's top players is often difficult. But reserves constitute the base upon which the roster rests. If a team's bench is weak, its regulars need not sustain excellence to hold onto their status. Or they must bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility for success. Yet, when a lineup is backed by a strong bench, the quality of its regulars tends to remain high, because they're being pushed to excel.

Or, to summarize: If Sandoval's your 25th man, you might have a decent ballclub.

"I think he shows you how much stronger we are," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the 31-year-old, who's a two-time All-Star, a .283 lifetime hitter and one of four players to homer three times in a World Series game.

Whether all this proves to be true for the Giants is questionable. Their 64-98 finish last season left an uncomfortable volume of room for improvement this year. Even if Sandoval's presence reflects an upgrade for the Giants, they're widely viewed as non-contenders in the tough National League West, which features 2017 postseason qualifiers Los Angeles, Colorado and Arizona.

Sandoval might not even be the Giants' 25th man. That label easily could be pinned on outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, utility man Kelby Tomlinson or any of a handful of relievers.

But the fact that the Giants can summon such a still-dangerous hitter to pinch-hit or fill in at the infield corners suggests that their offense might, indeed, take a quantum leap from last season, when they ranked last in the Majors in homers (128) and slugging (.380). They also finished next-to-last in runs (639) and on-base percentage (.309) and were 23rd in batting average (.249).

"I'm healthy," Sandoval said, alluding to the shoulder injuries that formerly dogged him, particularly during his ill-fated 2015-17 tenure with the Red Sox. "Bochy knows me very well. I'm going to continue to be healthy and keep working hard to be part of this team."

Sandoval might even return to his roots as a catcher, a position he stopped playing regularly in 2009, his first full big league season. He would be used behind the plate only in emergencies, if circumstances rendered both Buster Posey and Nick Hundley unavailable.

"I've talked to Pablo about this, and he's good with it," Bochy said.

"However I can contribute to winning games, I want to do that," Sandoval said.

Tweet from @SFG_Stats: 🐼Pablo Sandoval HR #1������Distance = 372 FeetExit Velocity 108 MPH#SFGiants SPLASH HIT #77 💦

Sandoval participated heavily in the Giants' most fruitful victory of the young season, Wednesday's 10-1 decision over Seattle. Replacing Evan Longoria at third base, Sandoval not only rocketed a three-run homer off Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, but also drew a bases-loaded, four-pitch walk to open the scoring in the first inning.

Video: SEA@SF: Panik comes home as Hernandez walks Sandoval

Forever known as an incurable free-swinger, Sandoval showed that he can be judicious at the plate. This illustrated what Bochy wants to see from the Giants, overall.

"I think that's going to be our strength. I think we're going to grind out these at-bats, really work the pitcher, run up pitch counts," Bochy said. "These guys are not afraid to see some pitches and take a strike. We want them to be aggressive, but at the same time have a good, quality AB up there."

Sandoval, who generated disappointment by making some bridge-burning remarks about the Giants when he fled to Boston in free agency, has revamped his attitude. He has become the type of teammate who's good for the ballclub, even when he doesn't play. In short, he's a leader, a link to the World Series-winning clubs of 2010, 2012 and 2014. Sandoval, Posey and Madison Bumgarner are the only active Giants remaining who played for all three of those teams.

"He's bringing it every game, even though he's not playing," Bochy said. "You see him around, you hear him and he's involved."

"A guy with that type of attitude, it's cool to see," right fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "You definitely get a little bit of that feel from when he was here in the past."

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.

San Francisco Giants, Pablo Sandoval