FORT MYERS, Fla. – For Pablo Sandoval, the last days of the 2015 season proved both unfamiliar and unsettling. When he was in San Francisco, Sandoval had become accustomed to playing not just through September but to the final day of the baseball calendar, most recently when he and the Giants won the 2014 World Series.
The contrast in his first year with the Red Sox proved extreme and unnerving.
In the final week of September, Sandoval was diagnosed with pneumonia. The team had him stay away from the park during his recovery, and didn’t bring him on the season-ending weeklong road trip. An already dismal first year in Boston – a .245 average, .292 OBP, and .366 slugging mark that all represented career-worsts, along with a poor defensive performance that resulted in Sandoval grading as one of the worst players in baseball by Wins Above Replacement – had an even more dismal final note.
“It was hard. It was hard because I’m the kind of guy who supports my teammates no matter what, up and down,” said Sandoval. “It was tough for me going home to watch the situation of my team. It’s tough, but you have to focus to prepare yourself for the year.”
That, Sandoval and those who visited him during the offseason South Florida insist, is what the 29-year-old set about doing. Once he received medical clearance to work out following three weeks of rest, Sandoval commenced two-a-day workouts in mid-October – earlier than he’d ever started offseason workouts in his career, in part because he was used to playing beyond that stage of the fall.
Sandoval would set his alarm for 4:30 a.m. from Monday through Saturday. His morning workout ran from 5 a.m. to 7:30, following by a hitting session (emphasizing his righthanded swing starting in mid-November) from 8 a.m. to about 9 or 9:30, followed by yoga at 11 a.m., rest, and then an afternoon lift from 3-5 p.m., a 12-hour, six-day-a-week routine.
“He worked his [expletive] off,” said one team official.
Sandoval said he didn’t find the early wakeups challenging. In describing his schedule, he articulated a motivation that he hadn’t expressed when he initially rejoined the Red Sox last week.
“Work hard. Work hard every single day to prove to my teammates and the fans that I can be a better player,” said Sandoval. “It’s not hard [to follow that schedule]. It’s not hard at all when you’re hungry for work and to do all the things that you want.
“I had to prove a lot,” he added. “When I got approved to work out, I started working hard. I’m not focused on looking back at what I did. I’m focused forward to be better.”
For all of the scrutiny that his physique has elicited, Sandoval insists that he is in position to do just that. He suggests that he’s seen the markers of improvement both offensively – where his timing as a righthanded hitter in live batting practice sessions has appeared well ahead of most teammates – and in the way that he’s been able to move in the field.
“I feel strong. It’s what I’m looking for,” said Sandoval. “I feel lighter when I move my feet so I can be an athlete in the field.”
But ultimately, such proclamations have no meaning. After a year where Sandoval failed to measure up to either the expectations that greeted his signing or his career track record, the only mechanism by which the 29-year-old can alter the perceptions of his first year in Boston is to perform on the field.
Sandoval recognizes that. And partly for that reason, Monday represents a landmark for him. After he was unable to be on the field or with his team for the final days of 2015, Sandoval now has a chance to return to games.
His opportunity to alter the way he’s viewed as a player has arrived. Now, speculation about his weight and idle chatter about his routines can give way to more objective ways of measuring what he’s positioned to do in 2016 and beyond, chiefly in the form of on-field performance, where he can offer the only meaningful rebuttal (or validation) to any skepticism about his abilities.
“I’m excited, man,” said Sandoval. “I left early, so now I’m excited to go back and have fun with my teammates.”
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.