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Sandoval seeks redemption for 2010 struggles

Sandoval seeks redemption for 2010 struggles

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Sandoval seeks redemption for 2010 struggles
SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval sounded typically upbeat on Friday.

"When you make the playoffs," he reasoned, "you have to be confident."

That wasn't the case for Sandoval during the Giants' last postseason appearance in 2010. The switch-hitting third baseman was anything but self-assured as he played his way out of the Giants' lineup during the National League Championship Series against Philadelphia.

Sandoval did seem ready for the current task at hand: Confronting the Cincinnati Reds in the Division Series that starts Saturday. He understood that this showdown represents a chance for redemption in the wake of his disappointing performance two years ago.

But he was reluctant to dwell on that theme.

"There's a great difference," Sandoval said after the Giants finished their workout at AT&T Park. "I'm going to have more action out there. I'm not going to put pressure on [myself], or try to do too much. 2010 was a tough deal for me. But it's past."

Reds vs. Giants
Though it's past, the memories remain vivid. Mike Fontenot started four games at third base in the Division Series against Atlanta and in the NLCS. Later, Juan Uribe took over at third base. An overweight Sandoval sealed his fate in Game 5 of the NLCS when he couldn't move fast enough to cover third base in time to receive a throw.

As a result, Sandoval didn't play an inning in the field in the five-game World Series. His lone Fall Classic appearance came as designated hitter in Game 3 at Texas. He went 0-for-3.

Asked about the misery of watching Fontenot replace him, Sandoval mostly skirted the question.

"I just want to win. It's a team," he said.

Sandoval then added, "It's different this year."

The Giants certainly hope so. Sandoval will continue to occupy the third spot in the batting order, wedged between the pair that galvanizes the offense, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, and the RBI twins, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.

Sandoval's final regular season statistics weren't overwhelming. He hit .283 with 12 homers and 63 RBIs in 108 games. For the second year in a row, a fractured hamate bone disrupted his season (last year it was his right hand; this year it was his left). His .447 slugging percentage was a significant dropoff from last year's .552.

Sandoval did hit a respectable .294 with runners in scoring position, occasionally demonstrating his potential as an impact hitter.

"He's got a lot of confidence right now, compared to two years ago," hitting coach Hensley Meulens said. "We need him to contribute. Pagan and Scutaro are doing a good job getting on base in front of him and Buster and Pence are driving in runs behind him. All we need him to do is keep the line moving."

"Keep the line moving" is manager Bruce Bochy's expression that describes sustaining offense. It doesn't have to be a base hit. It can be a walk or a ground ball that advances a runner. As most observers know by now, Sandoval doesn't always have the patience for such subtleties.

"Once you try to do too much, that's when you get in trouble," Meulens said. "That's when he gets overanxious and doesn't stay behind the ball. That's his biggest problem. When he stays behind the ball, he's great. Besides swinging at everything, he gets himself out. We need him to calm down, stay under control and do what he knows how to do best."

Bochy professed his belief in the 26-year-old Sandoval.

"He's in a different place right now, as far as how he's playing, how he's swinging the bat and playing third base," Bochy said. "I know he's more comfortable at the plate. He was a little lost in 2010, as we were going down the stretch, so that's why we had to tweak our lineup.

"So I know, for Pablo, he's excited about where he's at."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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