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NICK CAFARDO | ON BASEBALL

A slimmer Pablo Sandoval shows up early to Red Sox camp

Pablo Sandoval took some batting practice Thursday.
Pablo Sandoval took some batting practice Thursday.Andrea Melendez/The News-Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Pablo looks good for Pablo.

Pablo Sandoval has lost weight. Some estimates have him down 30 pounds.

He’s trying. Food is hard to push aside. It’s his vice. It’s probably a vice for many of us, but an athlete earning $17.6 million a season has to have discipline.

Sandoval showed up at JetBlue Park Thursday well ahead of the Feb. 17 reporting date for Red Sox positional players. He passed on a chance to play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic because he thought it important to be in this camp for six or seven weeks and re-prove himself.

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Throughout the winter, Sandoval posted photos of himself on Instagram and Facebook working out or just to show the baseball world that he was thinner and in shape. Those photos didn’t lie.

On Thursday, he was wearing an oversized Red Sox practice shirt, likely one that used to fit but now looks big on him. He took batting practice from both sides of the plate, an indication that he will resume switch-hitting, something he had given up partway through his first season with the Red Sox as his righthanded average sank to terrible lows.

He politely told the media that he would speak next week, as he was hurrying to get back to Miami.

“He worked his tail off,” said Jackie Bradley Jr., who also took batting practice Thursday. “You can definitely tell he’s worked hard.

“Happy to see him. And happy to see him happy. He’s a difference maker. He’s able to impact the game. We have faith that he’s going to do very well.

“He has a chip on his shoulder, and I love that. I know he wants to get back and play in his element. People always doubt you, even if you’re Mike Trout. You have to believe in yourself. You focus on that and getting better and not let the outside distractions bother you.”

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The Red Sox need Sandoval more than ever.

News flash: David Ortiz is gone, and the Sox didn’t really replace him. They figure that if Sandoval is the player they signed out of San Francisco, he’ll be a productive and, most importantly, clutch player. That’s why he got the big bucks. He led the Giants to some incredible wins at the most important times. That’s the Pablo they hope will come back.

Pablo Sandoval only played in three regular-season games last season.
Pablo Sandoval only played in three regular-season games last season.Andrea Melendez/The News-Press

“I was glad to see Pablo out here,” said bench coach Gary DiSarcina. “He looked good, a lot of energy. I’m anxious to see what he looks like once we get going and get to know him better.”

Sandoval is only 30 years old, so he sits in the prime of his career. Other than his weight, another issue is how his surgically repaired shoulder holds up and whether the procedure affects his swing.

The Red Sox thought about activating Sandoval for the playoffs last season had they incurred an injury, but it didn’t happen. Apparently, they felt he was well enough to provide at least a bat off the bench.

So now he comes into camp as the starting third baseman.

There’s really no challenger to him now. Travis Shaw, who won the third base job over Sandoval in spring training last season, has been traded to Milwaukee. There’s no bona fide candidate to take his place this time, as youngster Rafael Devers is probably two years away.

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The Red Sox have Brock Holt and Jeff Rutledge as insurance at third. They signed former Rangers first-round pick Mike Olt to a minor league contract. They have Deven Marrero around, and even though he’s a superb defensive shortstop, he could play third.

Video: Sandoval hitting righthanded

Video: Sandoval hitting lefthanded

(Videos by Peter Abraham/Globe staff)

You know who else could play third? Hanley Ramirez. Unlikely. But he’s volunteered to do it, and he has 99 career games there under his belt.

As Sandoval took BP and moved about, he received a lot of encouragement from the players on hand. He seemed to be in good spirits — serious, determined, motivated to do well.

With this weight loss, he has shown that he cares. He doesn’t want to be the brunt of jokes and an object of disdain for those — this reporter included — who have questioned how a professional athlete could not meet the minimum requirement of being in shape.

The weird thing is, nobody has ever questioned Sandoval’s work ethic. He always worked out. He adhered to the Giants’ offseason workout program and to Boston’s as well. So you can’t get on him for that. He has stuck to his nutrition program, and it has worked out great for him.

What the Red Sox want is for Sandoval to return to being an effective, productive hitter and above-average defender. They want his clubhouse demeanor to come shining through.

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Pablo was always capable of being a positive, happy-go-lucky clubhouse influence.

That’s the Pablo they hope has returned.

Peter Abraham/Globe Staff

Follow Nick Cafardo on Twitter at @nickcafardo.