We thought it might be enough to hang on.
When Jerry Sands stepped into the box Monday afternoon, facing a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth, he had the chance to leave the stadium as a hero.
And he did. (http://atmlb.com/GUPoXc)
Sands ripped a walk-off single to send the White Sox packing in a not-so-important spring training game. To the Dodgers, a walk-off hit is nice. To Sands, a walk-off hit can be the difference between Prime Rib in Los Angeles and Green Chile in Albuquerque.
The game-winner also came in the wake of Sands’ nine consecutive hitless at-bats. The hit had the potential to give the infielder some of his confidence back, which up until Monday, came at a premium. Without putting the former Isotope to too much shame, Sands was hitting only roughly better than I am while I sit at my desk.
“I have been feeling pretty brutal,” Sands told ESPN. “I’m just trying to work on some things. I have made some adjustments here and there, and I’m trying to get comfortable with some of the changes that I have made.”
You have to feel for the guy who showed such great flashes of potential last season when he hit .342 in 20 games during September for the Dodgers. Sands had tinkered with his swing a few times before posting those numbers, a sort of foreshadow to spring training.
At camp, Dodgers’ hitting coaches (that’s plural, coaches — all three of them) each offered their own insight to perfect Sands’ swing. And Sands, a teacher himself, knows three different voices telling you three different things can lead to trouble.
“You like to get help, and a lot of different people were trying to help,” Sands said.”But everybody is different as a hitter. I appreciate the help, and I love to listen, because I know I don’t know all of it. But I was up there thinking so many things at the plate, thinking about my swing and all that, and it’s tough enough already when you have that pitcher throwing 95 (mph).
A classic case of over-thinking.
Sands had initially entered camp with a legitimate, if not almost certain, shot at making the Opening Day 25-man roster. He has the ability to serve as a power-hitter for the Dodgers against lefties, but was never able to perform quite up to par in Glendale, Arizona.
“Even with the hit yesterday, he doesn’t feel good, he doesn’t feel right,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. “It’s been a rough camp for Jerry, and obviously, Jerry knows it.”
With those final words to seal Sands’ fate, Mattingly today announced he had optioned Sands to minor-league camp, most likely placing him in Albuquerque for the start of the 2012 season. From there, Sands has been told he may still figure into the Dodgers’ game plan at some point later this season.
“Right now, I’m just trying to see some pitches and get good swings on them,” Sands said. “I’m taking it at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch.”
May I suggest walk-off to walk-off?
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to sift through Dodgers Spring Training headlines without seeing a mention of Justin Sellers.
Thrown into the mix of three new free-agent infielder signings this offseason (Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy), Sellers needs to continue to make the most of his opportunities to stand out from the pack.
And it certainly doesn’t help that his three competitors have appeared in over 1,000 Major League games each, compared to Sellers’ 36.
“Kennedy, Ellis, those guys are vets and I can’t control it,” Sellers told MLB.com. “I just have to play as hard as I can to help this team.”
Which Sellers is consistently doing this spring, ranking seventh in overall batting average — In the entire National League.
Through seven games with the Dodges in Spring Training, Sellers has ripped a base hit in five of his 13 at-bats, posting a solid .385 batting average. The utility fielder also lifted a three-run home run in a pinch-hit situation Monday against the Angels.
Unfortunately, power hitting isn’t exactly what the Dodgers are looking for from Sellers, as Manager Don Mattingly expects a more balanced approach at the plate.
“When he got back to the dugout, the first thing I told him was to hit the ball to right field next at-bat,” Mattingly said, referencing hitting line drives. “He knows he has to. He led the team in fly-ball percentage last year. I don’t want to see him trying to hit home runs… He has to keep working on his swing to keep the ball down.”
Try telling that to Sellers, who’s belted 14 home runs in each of his last two seasons with the Isotopes.
Even with his strong start, most still consider Sellers a long-shot to make the opening-day roster, largely due to the long list of Dodgers veteran infielders. This leaves a single reserve spot to come down to a friendly battle with fellow Isotopes teammate, Jerry Sands. Both have drawn attention in the first half of Spring Training, but Mattingly seems to be leaning towards keeping Sellers while sending Sands back to Albuquerque.
“We all like Jerry (Sands), but he’s at a point where he can still get better,” Mattingly said. “He has hit lefties pretty well, but struggled on the other side with the righties. I think he can do that, but still remains to be seen.”
Despite such news, Sellers knows he must continue to adapt his game (specifically avoiding fly outs) if he wants to become an everyday player in the big leagues. This also comes on the back of the Dodgers bringing in three players, who, in their attempt to earn a starting role, will try to keep Sellers in Albuquerque.
“It’s frustrating a little bit,” Sellers said. “But it made me work harder and gave me a little fire to come out and work my butt off.”
And also keep the ball down in the process.
Permanency hasn’t always been a thing in Jerry Sands’ life. During his past few offseasons the left fielder has served as a substitute teacher for middle and high schools, but looks to make a more prominent impact in his true subject of expertise — baseball.
Sands spent roughly two-thirds of the 2011 professional baseball season with Triple-A Albuquerque. He appeared in 94 games with the Isotopes, blasting 29 home runs and hitting .278, before making his Major League debut with the Dodgers. Dressed in “True Blue,” Sands posted a noticeable .253 batting average with four homers and 56 RBI in 61 games.
He’s hoping it will be enough to get a phone call from the Dodgers this season for a full-time spot rather than a roster fill-in. Unfortunately, when Sands’ phone finally rang, it wasn’t quite the call he expected.
The Dodger hopeful’s phone rang at 4:30 AM with an automated call from Johnston County School District, looking for a substitute teacher for the day. Not exactly the type of news a full-time position seeker is hoping for.
“I want to be the starting left-fielder,” the 24-year-old Sands told the Globe and Mail last Thursday, a few hours after notifying the schools that he won’t be available for at least the next six weeks. “But no matter where they put me, I’ve got to show I can play.”
Sands has made a fair impression thus far in Spring Training, catching the eyes of Manager Don Mattingly, who is concerned about giving Sands the right amount of playing time. Mattingly acknowledged a lack of at-bats could potentially stunt the growth of Sands’ Major League development.
However, ESPN reported today that Juan Rivera will get the “vast majority of starts in left field,” leaving Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jerry sands in reserve, bench spots. Mattingly also suggested Rivera wouldn’t see as many as 150 games, leaving room for the Dodgers to “mix and match with Tony Gwynn and Jerry Sands as far as lefty-righty.”
While it seems playing time is all but set for Sands, it still is too early to pigeon hole the slugger as a Triple-A/Major League rotating player. The season can bring about many kinds of opportunities through trades or injuries, and Sands has continually proven he can rise to the occasion. The full-time baseball commitment is much larger than a substitute teacher, but no one wants to give up chasing the big-league dream. That, and the league-minimum salary of $480,000 definitely beats his other options.
I’m sure even Sands’ middle school students can appreciate that math.