SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Pablo Sandoval tried to get his mind right this winter. He tried to get his body right.
He spent a lot of time on his right-handed swing, too. And for that, he had help from the best right-handed hitter on the planet.
Apparently, Miguel Cabrera isn’t holding a grudge over the 2012 World Series.
“I was swinging, he was looking,” Sandoval told me. “He helped me a lot. I’m putting together all the things he told me. I see the difference at home plate.”
Sandoval couldn’t put a percentage on it, but said he took “a lot” more swings from the right side this winter – and for a very obvious reason.
“Sometimes I was benched (against lefties) because I didn’t have my right-handed swing,” Sandoval said. “I wanted that opportunity again, so I worked hard on it.”
He sought advice from Cabrera, his fellow Venezuelan countryman, whom Giants hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens called “arguably the best right-handed hitter in the game.”
Really, is there an argument? Cabrera is the two-time defending AL MVP. In 2012, he became the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown. And last year, he won his third consecutive batting crown -- becoming the first right-handed hitter to accomplish that feat since Rogers Hornsby in 1920-25.
Apparently Cabrera wasn’t too sore about his Detroit Tigers losing to the Giants in that 2012 World Series, when Sandoval hit three home runs in Game 1. Sandoval just had to make sure he didn’t flaunt his MVP trophy.
Cabrera didn't take swings alongside Sandoval because he had surgery in November to repair an abdominal muscle. But in multiple hands-on sessions on the fields in Valencia, Venezuela, Cabrera dissected Sandoval’s swing, cooked up game situations and quizzed him on how to break down a pitcher’s weaknesses.
One of his best tips?
“See if they can command the fastball in, because that tells you a lot,” Sandoval said. “And early in the count, get a pitch to drive.”
As a result of Sandoval's offseason work, which included shedding at least 30 pounds, he arrived in camp with an impressive swing from both sides of the plate.
“He’s way more agile in the box in terms of controlling the weight shift,” Meulens said. “He’s not gliding through the swing. He’s using all his strength, and that’s when he has a chance to impact the ball.”
Especially from the right side, Meulens sees a big difference. When he wasn’t in shape, Sandoval would either be way too far out in front, and because he was heavy, he’d tip over at the waist. He wouldn’t stay upright. Or he’d pull off the ball, letting his front shoulder fly open.
“He’s staying balanced and he’s able to rotate,” Meulens said. “That’s what is so critical for him. When he loads, he’s ready to turn instead of dipping. … Once your body is in the wrong position, it changes your swing path and you’re not centering the ball.”
No wonder Sandoval’s power disappeared from the right side. Last season, he hit just one home run in 148 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. In fact, over the past four seasons, he has just seven homers in 509 at-bats from the right side.
That wasn’t the Sandoval the Giants saw in 2009, his first full season, when he smacked six home runs in just 145 at-bats – and most of them were deep drives, too.
Sandoval’s right-handed struggles were a contributing factor as the Giants struggled to a 24-31 record against left-handed starters last season. That might not seem so abysmal, except they were 40-19 against southpaws in 2012.
That’s why Meulens was heading down to the cage Wednesday for a little extra work with Angel Pagan on his right-handed swing, too.
“Facing Kershaw and all these good left-handed pitchers in our division, you have to make sure your mechanics are sound so you can take off on the right path,” Meulens said. “All our switch-hitters – Pablo, Angel, Hector Sanchez, (Tony) Abreu -- should be better right-handed.
“The thing about Pablo, being a free agent, he has the motivation to be good -- and we need him to be good.”
Of course, it’d be handy for the Giants if Sandoval is good from the left side as well. (He had a great approach Wednesday, when he hit two RBI singles off Angels ace Jered Weaver.) It’s the nature of baseball, after all, that an everyday switch-hitter will get twice as many at-bats left-handed.
And wouldn’t you know it, special instructor Barry Bonds arrives in Giants camp March 10.
Miguel Cabrera for one side, Barry Bonds for the other. Now that's a fantasy camp.