03/27/12 7:39 PM ET
Sands sent to Minors in wake of hitting struggles
Dodgers outfielder batted just .158 in 38 Spring Training at-bats
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Although Sands sent a game-winning single through the hole at shortstop to give the Dodgers a 4-3 win over the White Sox on Monday, it raised his average only to .158. It was only his second RBI in 38 spring at-bats. He had 12 strikeouts and a .184 slugging percentage.
That was not what the club expected after Sands shook off an overmatched initial call-up last year and went off to hit .342 with seven extra-base hits in September.
After Monday's walk-off hit, Sands said he spent too much time this spring listening to too many people offering suggestions on what he should change.
Manager Don Mattingly referred to that in explaining the club's decision.
"More than anything in our minds we want him to settle down and get his swing back together," said Mattingly. "It's been a battle for him and he knows it, even with the hit yesterday. We'll get him in a work environment where he's not trying to compete. At the end of the day, I still think he's the best scenario for us to be the best club. We really want that."
What Mattingly and the Dodgers wanted was the Sands of last September to provide a right-handed power bat against left-handed pitching, especially if right fielder Andre Ethier or first baseman James Loney struggle hitting left-handers, as they did last year.
Mattingly hoped to use Sands as a power bat off the bench and to occasionally start in the corner outfield spots, with Juan Rivera moving to first base when Sands played left.
Eliminating Sands from the mix leaves the Dodgers uncertain with their last position roster spot. The only contender similar to Sands offensively is non-roster corner infielder Josh Fields, who has had a solid spring offensively (.314) after playing half of last year in Japan. Fields also has a history of a 23-homer season in the Major Leagues as a rookie for the White Sox.
Fields started at third base Tuesday, moved over to first base midgame and took fly balls in the outfield during morning drills, Mattingly said.
"I wouldn't mind seeing him an inning or two in the outfield here to see what we have and don't have," said Mattingly. "If he's on the club, in an emergency situation guys can wind up all over the place."
Luis Cruz, a more versatile non-roster infielder having a big spring after spending some time last year playing in Mexico, has less power than Fields but can play more positions, including shortstop.
What could be a decisive factor is that middle infielder Justin Sellers, another contender for the last spot, is already on the Major League roster and has options. Sellers returned to game action Tuesday after missing three games with a skin irritation.
The Dodgers can keep Sellers, have a true shortstop to back up Dee Gordon, and would not need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, as would be necessary for Fields or Cruz. Sellers is having his best spring offensively (.379).
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.