Source: OC Register
Angels’ Patrick Sandoval embraces higher expectations Jeff Fletcher %%item_date%% %%item_source%%
TEMPE, Ariz. — Patrick Sandoval is not going to sneak up on anyone now.
The Angels’ lefty enjoyed a breakout season in 2021, and then he followed up with an even better season in 2022, which brings him to 2023 with the weight of expectations.
“It’s exciting,” Sandoval said. “What you aim to do is come into camp with really high expectations for myself and for the team. I’m here to be the best I can, and every year I try to be better than I was the year before.”
Sandoval, 26, cut his ERA from 3.62 in 2021 to 2.91 in 2022, while increasing his innings from 87 to 148-2/3.
His hopes for further improvement in 2023 are based on an uptick in the metrics that his pitches have shown so far in early bullpen sessions.
“Just added a little to each (pitch),” he said. “I’m excited to get some hitters in the box.”
Sandoval throws an unspectacular fastball, averaging just 93.1 mph last season. Opponents hit .372 against the pitch.
Despite those numbers, he’s able to succeed because his changeup and slider are both outstanding. The changeup had been his best pitch, but he lost it for chunks of last season, which allowed for his slider to emerge.
Opponents hit .201 against his slider, whiffing at the pitch on 33.6% of their swings. He held hitters to a .215 average on the changeup, with a whiff rate of 44.5%.
“This is a guy who pitched to a sub-3.00 ERA really without what his bread and butter has been his whole career, the changeup,” manager Phil Nevin said. “It made the slider better. And then when he kind of found that changeup the last few starts, boy …”
Sandoval pitched his first career shutout on Aug. 19 at Detroit, starting a season-ending stretch in which he had a 1.85 ERA over eight starts. He struck out 45 and walked just 11 over those last 48-2/3 innings.
Walks normally are the root of Sandoval’s undoing.
“It’s a mindset thing,” Sandoval said. “Sometimes I lose it, but just staying on the attack and not trying to be too fine. Just the confidence to know that my stuff plays more than well up here. I’ve just got to trust it. When I’m in the zone, good things happen usually.”
Sandoval’s improvement has been similar to Shohei Ohtani’s. When Ohtani first reached the majors in 2018, the stuff was there, but the command was sometimes lacking, so he would get in trouble with walks and high pitch counts.
It’s no surprise that both pitchers have improved their command and become successful with pitches other than their fastballs. Both pitchers have worked at Driveline, spending time under the tutelage of former Driveline director of pitching Bill Hezel, who is now the Angels bullpen coach.
“If you notice, (Sandoval) doesn’t stray too far away from Shohei,” Nevin said. “They’ve been together for quite a bit these last several weeks here in Arizona. They play catch together every day. They go to dinners together and they’ve become really close. And we all know Sho makes people around him better. And Sandy’s right there.”
Like Ohtani, Sandoval is going to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. Sandoval will be pitching for Team Mexico, representing his father’s native country.
Mexico’s rotation also figures include the Dodgers’ Julio Urías, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Taijuan Walker and the Houston Astros’ José Uriquidy, but Mexico manager Benji Gil, the Angels’ infield coach, said Sandoval is tentatively lined up to pitch against Team USA on March 12.
Sandoval said he’d love to pitch that game, which is expected to be played amid an electric atmosphere and plenty of fans of both teams at Chase Field in Phoenix.
“That would be awesome,” Sandoval said. “I think that game is already sold out. It will be a crazy atmosphere.”
STILL SWITCH HITTING
Infielder Andrew Velazquez said Sunday he is still a switch-hitter, despite a brief experiment hitting exclusively from the right side just before he hurt his knee last season. Velazquez was 5 for 12 with a home run as a right-handed hitter against right-handed pitchers last season.
He said he decided over the winter that there was “still something viable” in his left-handed swing, so instead of abandoning it, he reworked it. Velazquez said he “reconstructed” his swings from both sides of the plate over the winter with a private hitting coach in Florida, in consultation with Angels hitting coaches Marcus Thames and Phil Plantier.
Nevin said the Angels support Velazquez’s decision, but he seemed to leave the door open for Velazquez to hit exclusively right-handed later. Velazquez has been an elite defender, but he has a career OPS of .535 in the majors.
If Velazquez could hit, the Angels would have a spot for him at shortstop. At the moment, though, the Angels seem prepared to give most of the playing time at shortstop to David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo or Gio Urshela.
“(Velazquez) knows where he stands with us,” Nevin said. “So we’ve been honest with him and if (switch hitting is) what he wants to do, and that’s what he feels is going to make him better, then we’re going to start the spring training that way.”
Velazquez, who had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in September, said he’s been feeling 100% since December.
Nevin said the Angels so far haven’t gotten word from head athletic trainer Mike Frostad that anyone has been injured since the start of camp. “No news is good news,” Nevin said. … All the position players are expected to participate in Monday’s first full squad workout of the spring.