Sandoval sharp in debut; Velazquez to bat righty

February 27th, 2023

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels left-hander experienced a breakout season in 2022, posting a 2.91 ERA in 27 starts, including 151 strikeouts in 148 2/3 innings.

Looking to build on that strong season, he started his spring with a solid outing against the Giants on Monday, allowing one hit over two scoreless innings. It was Sandoval’s first of two starts before he’s set to join Team Mexico for the World Baseball Classic.

“I felt like I was fighting my delivery a little bit, but I went down to the bullpen after and threw 20 more pitches to work on staying a little more neutral,” Sandoval said. “I was counter-rotating too much. Other than that, I was happy to fill up the zone and get soft contact after that first hit.”

Angels manager Phil Nevin liked what he saw from Sandoval, especially his improved changeup that had Heliot Ramos so fooled he lost his grip of the bat and it ended up in left field.

Nevin pointed out that Sandoval was able to have success last year despite having trouble with his changeup for parts of the season. It was previously Sandoval’s best pitch, but the struggles forced him to adapt and his slider became his primary putaway pitch most of the year.

“He's one of the guys I'm most excited about,” Nevin said. “His bread-and-butter [pitch] has always been that changeup, and he kind of lost the feel for that for a few months during the season and relied on the slider, which turned into just an electric pitch. And watching him throw, the changeup has been really good and back to where it was.”

Sandoval threw the changeup 29.6 percent of the time in 2021, and it was his most used pitch, followed by his four-seamer (24.4 percent), sinker (18.7 percent), slider (17.2 percent) and curveball (10.1 percent). But last year, the slider became his most utilized pitch, throwing it 29 percent of the time, followed by the change (24.6), four-seamer (22.8), sinker (14.2) and curve (9.3).

Sandoval said he plans to use the changeup more this season, as he still believes it’s his best offering when he has a feel for it.

“It’s huge,” Sandoval said. “It’s my best pitch, and I need it every outing. It’s something that really works with the fastball and the slider.”

Nevin said he could see Sandoval pitching deeper into games this season if he can get all of his pitches working more consistently. Sandoval set a career high last year with 148 2/3 innings, averaging roughly 5 1/3 frames per outing. Sandoval’s best game was a four-hit shutout of the Tigers on Aug. 19, and Nevin said it was no coincidence that Sandoval had his changeup working that game.

“If he can have all three going, you're going to see a lot of games like the one he threw in Detroit last year when he found it that day,” Nevin said. “I'm excited to watch him work. He's got to get some extra work in before he goes and does the stuff with the WBC.”

Sandoval said he still hasn’t been informed when he’ll start for Team Mexico, but he will be part of the rotation. The Angels are comfortable with Sandoval participating in the tournament, especially with Team Mexico being managed by Halos infield coach Benji Gil and playing nearby in Phoenix for Pool C play.

“I’m very excited,” Sandoval said. “I watched it in 2017. It’s going to be amazing just to be a part of it this year. The Angels have been very supportive, and with Benji as the manager, it’s awesome. We’re all going to toward one goal, and that’s getting to Miami and winning the tournament.”

Velazquez to ditch switch-hitting 
Shortstop said early in spring that he planned to remain a switch-hitter this season after briefly hitting exclusively right-handed late last season. But after facing live pitching this spring, Velazquez decided he felt more comfortable hitting from the right side.

On Monday, he faced Giants right-hander Melvin Adon as a righty and struck out looking.

But Velazquez had success facing right-handers in his trial as a righty last year, going 5-for-12 with a homer, and he is naturally a right-handed hitter.

“We’re happy with it,” Nevin said. “It went well last year until he got hurt in Cleveland. It’ll simplify things for him and his work in the cages. So, I think it’s best for him.”