Sandberg keeps focus
Rays third baseman, known for defense, has hit two big homers in the past five days.
By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 28, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- With a new brand of contact lenses and a corrected prescription, Jared Sandberg's vision is better than ever.
But it's a different kind of focus, unrelated to his eyes, that has aided the Rays third baseman at the plate lately.
"When you step in the box, have an idea of what you're trying to do," said Sandberg, who hit a two-run homer during the sixth inning of Saturday's 7-4 victory against the Yankees. "You watch some experienced hitters like the Yankees and the Red Sox, they're looking for a pitch or a location. And they wait until they get it, and they try to put a good swing on the ball.
"For me, I'm just trying to get a pitch up in the zone. It doesn't matter what the pitch is, just up in the zone and try to put a good swing on it."
Sent to Triple-A Durham out of spring training because the Rays didn't view him as a viable option offensively, Sandberg was recalled May8 and has produced at the plate after a slow start. He is hitting .286 with nine homers and 21 RBIs since May30, doing so from the lower half of the batting order. He hit seventh Saturday and went 2-for-3 with a double, home run, two RBIs and three runs scored.
"He complements the singles hitters, and the contact hitters complement him," Tampa Bay manager Hal McRae said. "We know what to expect from him.
"We're expecting a little juice and a little production. He has a space, and we'd like to keep him there."
The Rays know Sandberg, whose specialty is defense, will strike out more times than he homers.
He has 67 strikeouts in 178 at-bats.
"But if he plays a good third base and gives us some production, we can live with that," McRae said.
"As long as the players complement each other, we're going forward."
Saturday's homer -- a 448-foot shot off the C-ring catwalk -- came on a hanging breaking ball from Yankees starter Jeff Weaver and gave the Rays a 5-2 lead.
"That's a pretty good poke," Sandberg said when told of the estimated distance.
The homer was the second significant one of the week for the 24-year-old.
Against Boston on Tuesday at Fenway Park, Sandberg capped the largest ninth-inning rally in Rays history with a three-run homer off reliever Ugueth Urbina to give Tampa Bay a 5-4 lead.
"I've never seen myself as a power hitter," he said. "At third base, you've got to hit some home runs and you've got to drive in some runs.
"For me, I'm just focusing on hitting the ball hard and driving in runs when I get theopportunities."
Sixty games remain this season, and Sandberg already has improved his stats from his rookie season, when he batted .206 with one homer and 15 RBIs in 39 games. He has 10 homers and 27 RBIs.
Has his extra effort at the plate started to pay off?
"It might be too early to determine that," Sandberg said. "There's still quite a few games left to go in the season. I'm trying to go out there and improve every day.
"I'm just trying to focus on helping the ballclub win a ballgame."
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