- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2014

It doesn’t rhyme and is not as snappy. San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval has “Round Mound of Pound” and “Little Money” listed as former nicknames. However, nothing worked, or stuck, like “Kung Fu Panda.”

“Kung Fu Panda” is a Disney creation, which Sandoval at times also appears to be. The deal with the panda is this: He finds himself chosen as the Dragon Warrior despite the fact that he is obese and a martial arts novice. The comparison to the cherubic Sandoval ends with his unlikely position, rounded belly and non-stop happy demeanor. He is no novice.

Sandoval is the biggest offensive threat the Giants have against the Washington Nationals when the teams start a National League Division Series on Friday at Nationals Park. He’s a career .329 hitter against current members of the Nationals staff. Much like his pitch selection, Sandoval’s success against the Giants is indiscriminate. The switch-hitter hits right-handers, starters and relievers. Left-handers, at times, give him trouble.

His offensive skill, and that percolating personality, are what make Sandoval a player of intrigue, particularly in the fall. He was named the 2012 World Series MVP after hitting three home runs in Game 1. Only Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols have also hit three home runs in one World Series game.

He hit two of those home runs off Detroit Tigers starter Justin Verlander. One came on an 0-2 count, against a 95-mph fastball that was just below “Giants” on his baggy uniform top. It went out just slightly right of center field. The second was on a 2-0 fastball that was down and away. It went out to left field. After it landed, Verlander could be seen mouthing one word, “Wow.” The third came on an 84-mph changeup from cartoonishly named reliever Al Alburquerque. The low 1-1 off-speed pitch was sent to dead center.

The most surprising thing about those at-bats was that Sandoval saw at least three pitches in each. He swings. A lot. And, it makes him a rotund nightmare for any hurling strategist.

“You try to come up with a gameplan and a lot of times with those guys, there’s really not a gameplan,” current teammate and former foe Tim Hudson said. “You have to expand. Sometimes the best thing with those guys is when you miss your spot. A lot of times when you make your pitch, bury an off-speed pitch, those are the ones they get the barrel to and hit a double in the gap. You’ll throw a pitch right down the middle and they’ll pop it up. You’ll throw one neck high, a foot outside and they’ll hit a double off the wall.

“With those guys, it’s lower than low and higher than high. What you think is low enough, you probably need to go a little bit further. Or what you think is high enough, you’ve got to go a little bit higher.”

Sandoval’s haunting of the Nationals has spared only Gio Gonzalez. The left-hander has held Sandoval to just a hit in 10 at-bats. Sandoval is 3-for-12 against Stephen Strasburg. He’s 6-for-13 against Jordan Zimmerman. He’s 4-for-5 against Doug Fister.

“He’s done it before, been in a situation like this,” Gonzalez said. “You have to pitch him one pitch at a time. You can’t try thinking three pitches ahead. He’ll definitely make you pay, if you start thinking like that.

“A lot of comparison to Vladimir Guerrero. He didn’t have a strike zone. From the top of his head to his shoelaces. With hitters like that, you have to be careful, but you still want go after them.”

When a teammate is asked what Sandoval’s personality is like, a smiling reaction is universal.

“Energetic,” Brandon Crawford said with a laugh. “Kind of exactly like he seems he is on the field. Full of energy. Loud. Always having fun.”

A few feet away from Crawford, Sandoval is finishing up interviews at his locker. The Venezuela native is finishing one in Spanish, before dealing with a final reporter. He’s jovial, though his eyes insist Wednesday night’s 8-0 wild-card game win against the Pittsburgh Pirates was well-celebrated. He knows no other way than fun.

“Why would I want to be sad?” Sandoval said. “I just enjoy the moments.”

The playoffs bring only more fun for Sandoval. He’s a .333 career hitter in the postseason and has as many home runs (6) as walks (6).

In a baseball world where everything is drilled down and specified, Sandoval just swings away. This season, he swung at 58.3 percent of the pitches thrown toward him. For his career, he’s swung at 57.2 percent of 12,461 pitches thrown to him. That’s 7,128 swings in seven seasons. He’s a .294 career hitter.

“He’s definitely different,” Crawford said. “Not too many guy cans do what he does, swing at every pitch, and put the barrel on the ball.”

Sandoval insists not changing during the playoffs is important. Why change for three or four games after having success all season?

There is one key, however.

“Don’t get too excited,” Sandoval said with is mouth and hands. “Calm down yourself.”

Easy for him to say. He doesn’t have to game-plan to get him out.

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