As you probably know by now, Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. was designated for assignment on Monday morning and was replaced on the active roster by outfielder/first baseman Jerry Sands, who was recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque. It was the fourth such call-up in the past two seasons for the 24-year-old Clayton, North Carolina native and the result of an off-the-charts July with the Isotopes, including one game in which he hit two grand slams – something that has only occurred four times before in the long and rich history of the Pacific Coast League.
Sands credits his success to Isotopes hitting coach John Valentin, who helping him rediscover his swing from two years ago – the swing that made Sands one of the top prospects within the Dodgers farm system.
As you might expect, Sands was the hot topic for the media in the Dodgers clubhouse prior to Monday night’s game. Here is what Jerry had to say to reporters (and one ThinkBlueLA.com blogger):
* * * * * *
Q: How trying has this season been for you? You started out cold and its been a bit up and down for you.
JS: It was tough. I was hoping that it would all work out in the end and make me a better player because of it. I just kept working and I knew once I came out of (my slump) I’d be a better player.
Q: How does it feel to be back up here for the stretch run?
JS: It’s exciting playing on a team playing well all year long. It was fun on my first little stint up when Matt went on the DL. You could tell the excitement in the locker room and winning ball games and kind of getting in that playoff race and still in it. Going back and forth with the Giants, it’s going to be fun, the stretch run like this last month.
Q: Is this call-up different than when you were called up last season? Does it feel different in the clubhouse?
JS: I’m obviously a little more comfortable. I’ve got a better relationship with a lot of these guys. It’s a little easier to come in and know everybody. It’s always a good feeling when you’re worried about how that matures in a playoff run, so it’s good it happens.
Q: What turned things around for you? Is it the longer hair? You don’t have the buzz cut anymore.
JS: I don’t know. I’m trying to let it grow out, it’s never been this long before but I don’t think it’s going to be a lot of help… it’s getting a little bit out of control now.
It’s been a little bit of everything, getting back comfortable is the main thing. We kind of had a little discussion a couple weeks ago about what I wanted to do with my swing and this and that. I pretty much got comfortable and then we can work on some other things. We got comfortable and then we kind of applied things that we’ve been working on pretty much the whole year and it’s my old swing and it turned out a bit better.
Q: In spring training, Don said that you were tweaking your swing too much. Is that something that you have been working on in the second half?
JS: In spring training it was always tweaking but it was like tweaking something I had no idea what I was doing… it was like an unknown territory for me so it was tough for me to have a base and then work on it. Now that I’ve gone back to my swing from a couple of years ago I was really comfortable with it, I know pitch by pitch what I need to do to make an adjustment, and then to work on things in the cage and apply them in the games. It’s a lot easier than not really knowing what you’re doing to begin with and then try switching some things around. I think just the comfort level to begin and then applying different things and different ways of doing things on top of that was a lot easier.
Q: Why did you move away from your old swing in the first place?
JS: When I came up to the big leagues the first time, I wasn’t as successful and I knew I had some things to work on. I went back on down to Triple-A and then I got comfortable another way and I started hitting another way. I came back up in September (2011) and it worked and it clicked, so I felt like that was the swing, but obviously when I came to spring training (2012), it didn’t work out. It was some different thoughts from different people. I knew I needed to change some things… maybe not as dramatic as I did, but this happened and maybe it will work out for the best.
Q: Things with your hands?
JS: With my hands, with my feet.
Q: Where are you right now with your hands?
JS: My hands are pretty much just above my shoulders, shoulder width maybe a little wider with my feet. It’s just where I feel comfortable with… things kind of click. It’s where I know what’s going on with my hands and with my stride… I can kind of control it a little bit better that I could before.
Q: You had brought your hands down, right?
JS: I had brought them out a ways from my body and they were creeping down and that was the thing we were trying to keep away (from). It was something that was happening and I wasn’t really wanting it to. That was one thing we tried to work on but it had already taken its toll and it was tough for me to get out of it.
Q: Has Don indicated if you are going to spend more time at first base or in the outfield?
JS: We haven’t really talked about it in depth. He just told me I was playing right tonight and that’s pretty much as far as it went. Obviously he needs to tell me where I need to play either way but I’m just going to come ready to play every day regardless if it’s outfield or first base.
Q: Did you spend more time at first in Albuquerque?
JS: I actually spent a pretty good amount of time in the outfield. Scott Van Slyke was playing some first base and I would get an occasional day in there. When he was up here, I played first base quite a bit, but when he came back down he was playing some first. I played the last couple days at first base but I feel comfortable at both the outfield and first base.
Q: How did you recover from the disappointment of spring training?
JS: I just kept working. I obviously knew that it wasn’t the end of my career coming out of spring training. I knew I had a lot left to prove and a lot more baseball to play… I just kept working. This game is a lot of disappointment and if you sit there and dwell on what I should have done or what I could have done in spring training, then you’re probably going to keep digging yourself a deeper hole. I just kept working and knew I was going to come out on the other side… hopefully a better player.
Q: It seemed that you were the guy who kind of defied expectations at spring training. How was it dealing with that?
JS: It happens. Obviously I knew that I had a pretty got shot coming into spring training. I would have loved to have been up here the whole year helping this team, but obviously it didn’t work out and the team has been doing a heck of a job without me. It’s fun to come back in this position in the last couple months of a playoff run and hopefully I can help the team win some ballgames.
Q: What’s changed the most for you since your call-up in June?
JS: Obviously the swing, that would be the basic thing. Confidence is another thing. I’m a little more comfortable at the plate so it’s easier to go up there and know what I’m doing, but I wouldn’t say a whole lot has changed other than that. Just being comfortable and having my old swing is pretty much the biggest thing that changed.
Q: When you came up the last time, you felt that you were making some progress. Where is it now compared to then?
JS: It’s different, but the progress I was making was small fundamental things… kind of with my hands, and loading, and getting different pitches, that’s what I was mainly working on. I’ve kind of applied what I was doing with the swing then with my older swing and it’s kind of clicked.
Q: Swings are a constant adjustment. How many adjustments did you make to your swing?
JS: Big changes I’d say I’ve probably had two or three total swing changes in the last two years. When I came up the first time and went back down, and then for September I had a change, and when I came up this year I changed my swing, and I’m back to (my swing from) two years ago; so it’s been a trick… it’s been tough, but like I said, hopefully it will all pay off and will benefit me in the future.
Q: When you switched this time was it right around the All-Star break?
JS: Ya, a few weeks ago. We had a few rovers (coaches) in town and we sat down and said to get back to being comfortable and then we can apply things that we want to work on.
Q: Who were the rovers?
JS: I’ve been working with (John) Valentin for a while and we’ve kind of been going back and forth about what we wanted to do; and then Eric Owens came in, and De Jon Watson is in town, and a bunch of guys were in town, so it was just a little bit of everybody, but it was mainly me and Valentin working on the main stuff.
Q: Isn’t that a complement, to have everybody wanting to work with you?
JS: Ya, to see everybody… there was a bunch of rovers. Ned and Stan were in town at one point in time. I think they were surveying to see what they had with the trade deadline coming up and they wanted to see what they had in Triple-A. Its good when you’ve got guys coming in to town to work with you… you know that they still want you to be successful.
Q: When did you get the call?
JS: Last night. I didn’t play in the game so I figured something was up and they told me after the game. It’s exciting.
Q: Do you think that the team has improved since the last time you were here?
JS: Ya. It’s a little different. I think Donny told me we’ve got like five new players or something like that, so it’s more introductions. I think we’ve got some valuable pieces in trades and stuff and I think it’s just going to help us the closer we get to September and the end of the year.
Q: What was it like in that two grand slam game?
JS: It was exciting, something I’ve never done before. To be one of five guys to ever do it in the PCL is pretty exciting. I’ll remember it for a long time.
Dylan Hernandez: You hit two grand slams in a game?
JS: I did.
Eric Stephen: You mean you don’t read our minor league reports, Dylan?
JS: It was a 7-inning game, too. Actually my first three at bats I came up with the bases loaded.
Q: I take it you had never done that before in your life… not in Little League or anything.
JS: No. It was pretty cool.
Q: Did you get it on the first and second at bats?
JS: No, the first and third. I grounded out in my second one and told a couple people it would have been cool to hit two and then I came up again and did.
Q: Were you aiming for the fences?
JS: I always swing for the… I mean, I swing hard pretty much every time just in case you hit it… that’s my motto. I got a good pitch to hit. It was less than two outs and I was trying to get a ball in the air and drive some guys in and it went out.
Q: Did you think that your old swing was back after a game like that?
JS: In Nashville (prior to the two grand slam game) I was swinging the bat really well, so I was in the zone, I was just clicking. That was definitely a confidence builder… two swings of the bat and you get two home runs eight RBIs, it definitely helps to look at the stat book after that. It was fun, I enjoyed it.
Q: Do you think they would have pitched around you if you came up again with the bases loaded?
JS: They actually just kept coming right at me so it was good, I was feeling good and they kept coming right at me and that’s what you want.
Q: Did you pick up any new superstitions after that, like eating the same thing for breakfast… things like that?
JS: No, I’m pretty superstitious. I try to (eat the same thing every day). My wife is in Nashville, I would eat the same things every day if I could but she’s not down with that.
Q: So it’s her fault.
JS: Well, no, I still kept hitting the ball in Albuquerque, so I kind of broke the superstition, so maybe they’re not all true. I wanted to go to ‘Which Wich‘ everyday but she didn’t want to go.