Pablo Sandoval Among 5 National League Players Who Need to Have a Big Week

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterJune 11, 2012

Pablo Sandoval Among 5 National League Players Who Need to Have a Big Week

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    Some of the National League players who we said needed a good week came through over the past seven days. 

    Ryan Zimmerman, for instance, hit 8-for-25 (.320) with a home run and four RBI since we singled him out last week. Not coincidentally, it would seem, the Washington Nationals won five of six games last week.

    Not that we're claiming any sort of credit. We could list the New York Mets' Ike Davis here every single week (and it feels like we have), yet he hasn't made much of an improvement. And the Mets curiously don't appear motivated to send him to the minors. 

    But let's see what happens with this week's quintet of struggling players. Here are five from the NL who could really use a good week. 

Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants

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    Pablo Sandoval could have handled his recovery and rehab from a broken left hand better. 

    Being investigated for sexual assault is something no player or team wants to be associated with. But for a fan favorite like Sandoval, such news seems that much more disappointing. When a player is on the disabled list and trying to work his way back, all you want to hear is that he's taking batting practice, fielding grounders, running stadium stairs, etc.

    Speaking of running stadium stairs, Sandoval lost focus on his conditioning while he was out of the lineup. That got him on the wrong side of manager Bruce Bochy, who's obviously tired of his third baseman fluctuating in and out of shape and wants Sandoval to commit to his conditioning (per the San Francisco Chronicle).

    Sandoval will lose an off day because of it. The Giants don't play on Monday, but Sandoval will be at AT&T Park for a full conditioning session, according to CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly. And he'll be getting a lot of work at third base. 

    However, if Sandoval hits and fields his position well, Bochy won't have to get on his case. With the Giants still in the NL West race, five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, getting their best player back at peak performance would make a huge difference for them. 

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals

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    The Washington Nationals haven't gotten what they expected out of second baseman Danny Espinosa this season. 

    Last year, the rookie showed some promise, hitting 26 home runs and driving in 66 runs. His .236 batting average and 166 strikeouts demonstrated some problems in his game, however. Those problems have been much more apparent this season.

    Espinosa may be on the verge of a breakout after batting 4-for-11 (.364) during the Nats' three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox over the weekend. But those four hits came against two left-handed pitchers, Felix Doubront and Jon Lester. 

    That's been part of the problem with Espinosa. As the Washington Times' Amanda Comak explains, Espinosa is batting .381/.480/.714 against lefties, but just .188/.268/.288 versus right-handers. 

    Unfortunately for Espinosa, the Nats are set to face three right-handed pitchers this week in Toronto. One of them will be Brandon Morrow, who's pitching like an AL Cy Young Award contender.

Livan Hernandez, Atlanta Braves

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    Being asked to pitch only twice during the past two weeks doesn't indicate much confidence in Livan Hernandez from Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.

    Hernandez hadn't seen the mound since May 27, when he gave up four runs and six hits over three innings in a loss to the Nationals. So should it have been any surprise that Hernandez wasn't sharp when he came in to pitch Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays?

    The Jays roughed up Hernandez for five runs and seven hits in just 1.2 innings of work. That included back-to-back home runs by Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. 

    Prior to Sunday, Hernandez had pitched seven consecutive scoreless appearances. So is this just bad managing by Gonzalez, who should know better than to let a pitcher gather dust in the bullpen? Hernandez isn't going to blow opposing hitters away. He needs to be sharp with his pitches, and that can't happen when he's not given work. 

    If Gonzalez decides not to pitch for Hernandez for another two weeks, he won't need a big week. But if he does get the call and gives up multiple runs again, his spot on the Braves roster could very well be in jeopardy.

Gaby Sanchez, Miami Marlins

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    Three weeks ago, Gaby Sanchez was hitting so badly that the Miami Marlins demoted him to Triple-A New Orleans. Batting .197/.244/.295 with one homer and 11 RBI is hardly the production the team was looking for from first base.

    But after compiling a .976 OPS with three homers and 10 RBI in 79 plate appearances with the Zephyrs, the Marlins were willing to give Sanchez another shot. In his return to the majors, Sanchez responded positively with an RBI double. 

    It's only one game, of course, and Sanchez will have to do a lot more to maintain a hold on his job. But if he can hit, the Marlins can put Logan Morrison back in left field, and they have a deeper lineup. 

    The Marlins could certainly use some more offense after losing six in a row and averaging under two runs per game during that span. It doesn't figure to get much easier with three games against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

    If Sanchez has found the hitting form that made him an All-Star last season, the Marlins could score some runs in Boston. 

Jon Rauch, New York Mets

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    The New York Mets have had issues with their bullpen all season long. At least the back end of their relief corps had been relatively dependable with Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco. 

    However, Rauch's recent performance has called that into question. The Mets' giant 6'11" right-hander has given up runs in three of his past four appearances. That includes Sunday, during which Rauch hung a slider that Russell Martin cranked out for a walk-off home run. 

    Rauch sat out the Mets' series against the Nationals to rest his right elbow. He insists the elbow isn't why he's been pitching badly and disputes the notion that he has loose debris floating around in the joint (via ESPN).

    The results would seem to indicate otherwise. How much longer are the Mets going to keep using Rauch if medical data says his elbow is a problem and he keeps giving up runs? 

    Perhaps the Mets' day off on Monday will give Rauch the additional rest his elbow needs. If not, he could get into some trouble with three games against the Rays next on the schedule. It doesn't get much easier with the Reds and Orioles up after that.