A few weeks ago I wrote about how Jerry Sands was struggling all around, and how there were no silver linings to his game. He wasn’t hitting right-handers or left-handers. He wasn’t hitting for power. It wasn’t a home/road split, or a situation where you could point to the most recent games with hope that he was turning things around.
Now? There are a few silver linings. In fact, there are outright positive signs.
On the season, Sands has a really disappointing .186/.313/.307 line in 140 at-bats. That’s largely due to his month of April when he had a .145/.235/.171 line with just two extra base hits in 75 at-bats. He’s shown improvements in the month of May, leading to an .864 OPS in 64 at-bats.
It started by hitting left-handers. Sands has always hit lefties well, and used that advantage to begin breaking out of his slump. On the season he now has a .233 average and an .825 OPS in 30 at-bats against lefties. That’s not a huge sample size, but considering his success against left-handers in the past, I wouldn’t doubt that it reflects his ability.
The more encouraging sign recently has been that Sands is starting to hit right-handers. About a week ago he had a .416 OPS against right-handers. Now that’s up to a .560 OPS in 110 at-bats. Two things about that. One is that the number is still really low. Two is that we’re still early in the season where a few good games can cause a big jump. That’s pretty much what has happened with Sands.
In his last two games, Sands has hit two homers, both coming off right-handers. He’s starting to show power all around, with six extra-base hits in his last six games, with most of those coming against right-handers. In his last ten games he’s hitting for a .294/.415/.706 line in 34 at-bats, with the high slugging percentage due to the recent power.
The Pirates don’t have a huge need for an outfielder, since Travis Snider and Jose Tabata have both performed well at times this year. That said, they could use an outfielder who can hit left-handers. Snider and Tabata haven’t done a good job in that department, while Sands has been excellent in his career. If he continues his recent trends, especially against lefties, then Sands could emerge as a strong second half addition to the 25-man roster, hopefully setting up a platoon in the outfield that works just as well as the current first base platoon.
Pirates Have Lefty Relief Depth
The bullpen in the majors has been great as an overall unit this year. On an individual level, not every player has been good. Tony Watson came into the year as the top lefty in the bullpen, but has largely struggled. The emergence of Justin Wilson to take his place as the top lefty have over-shadowed Watson’s issues.
In the last week Watson has only pitched once, when he threw two shutout innings against Houston last Thursday. Prior to that he had gone six straight appearances where he gave up a run, giving him runs in seven of his last eight appearances. Watson has been seen warming up in the bullpen, so he’s been available. But he’s hardly an option you can trust this year.
The Indians have several left-handed pitchers who are performing well, giving them a few options to replace Watson if the struggles continue.
Andy Oliver - He’s looking a lot like Justin Wilson, with a 2.87 ERA in 53.1 innings, thanks to 35 hits and 60 strikeouts in that span. The downside is that he has 39 walks. Oliver might be better in the rotation, at least until Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton are healthy. At this point if someone in the majors goes down, he’s the only option.
Kris Johnson - He has a 3.80 ERA in 42.2 innings as a starter, with a 33:16 K/BB ratio. Johnson may be better out of the bullpen. He’s gone from being upper level depth to being a sleeper middle reliever in the last year, fueled by a strong performance in the Dominican Winter League.
Mike Zagurski - He was one of the last cuts from major league camp, after having an impressive Spring. Zagurski has carried that over to Triple-A with a dominant run. He has a 2.29 ERA in 19.2 innings over 17 appearances, with an impressive 34:8 K/BB ratio.
Watson has two option years remaining, so the Pirates could send him down to Triple-A to get some work if necessary. Of the three pitchers, only Oliver is on the 40-man roster, meaning the Pirates would have to make some room to add one of the other guys.