SAN FRANCISCO -- Here in the home clubhouse at AT&T Park, eight pairs of baseball cleats sit at the bottom of Pablo Sandoval's dressing stall.
At the moment, we can safely assume that none of them are "hitting shoes."
Sandoval showed at least one sign of escaping his Panda-deficient April funk Saturday afternoon. He seared a double into the left field gap past a diving Colorado Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon.
That was Sandoval's best moment of the day. His worst moment occurred in the bottom of the eighth inning. With the Giants trailing 1-0, Sandoval struck out swinging with the bases loaded and two outs. The sellout crowd groaned. The score held up. The Giants lost.
Sandoval has looked a little bit lost, too, during his first 12 games. In 46 at-bats, he has seven hits. This makes for a cool .152 batting average. His career average is .295. His career attitude has always been sunny. That attitude might have gone astray, too. He might be pressing, trying too hard.
He claims otherwise.
"I'm trying to get my rhythm back," Sandoval admitted when he finally appeared in the locker room more than a half-hour after the final pitch.
But is he frustrated?
"No," he said. "I just pass the page. And keep working hard."
What would set off an alarm bell in his head to be worried?
"Especially with men on base, if I would rush it," Sandoval said.
He insisted that wasn't what happened on his bases-loaded strikeout Saturday. Colorado reliever Rex Brothers just fooled (Kung-fooled?) the Panda with a good changeup. That's baseball. Sunday will be another step forward into Sandoval finding his groove. That's what Sandoval believes.
But should we believe Sandoval?
One of the tougher things in sports is to figure out what the first two weeks of any season really mean. For baseball fans, April angst is a fine tradition, with obsessive feelings of doom about any player who gets off to a slow start.
Before Saturday's first pitch, for example, April angst was enveloping Giants starter Matt Cain. He had not been sharp in his first two appearances. So the sky was falling. But this time around, he was back in ace mode, with seven innings of good stuff and eight strikeouts. The sky was glued back in place.
Of course, Cain's performance was no guarantee that he will be in 2012 perfect-game form in every subsequent start. Baseball is the longest season, with so many up-and-down variables. But at least Cain has now shown this spring that he can have a top-shelf Matt Cain game. Sandoval has not shown the same thing about a top-shelf Pablo Sandoval game.
Is that because the Panda's financial future is walking up there to the plate with him every day? Last week, the Giants said they had tabled talks on an extension of Sandoval's contract, which runs out at the end of this season. General manager Brian Sabean said Sandoval's representatives have "drawn a line in the sand that we're not going to beat."
Word is that Sandoval wants more money than outfielder Hunter Pence's five-year, $90 million deal. If Sandoval bats .152 the rest of the year, he will get nothing close to that. If he is thinking about this in the on-deck circle and batter's box, it could explain a lot.
"I can't tell you if he's pressing," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after Saturday's game, but the topic definitely arose before the first pitch.
"One thing I don't want Pablo to do is get away from playing the game the way he plays," Bochy told reporters in his pregame media session. "He has a lot of passion and enthusiasm. Thinking about the contract can become a distraction. You've got to be who you are, and that's a great quality of his. He loves to play. He's not playing for the wallet, and I certainly don't want that to happen now."
With the Giants off to a decent 7-5 start, April angst is still an overreaction when it comes to Sandoval. But April apprehension may be appropriate. The Panda famously took the offseason very seriously, losing a reported 30 pounds and working hard on his defensive skills. But he leads the team in errors and was replaced defensively in Friday's late innings. His slow start will be a concern until it's not a concern.
Sandoval, at least publicly, is not the planet's most introspective athlete. But he looks you in the eye and answers every question.
"I try to make the adjustments and get better day to day," Sandoval said Saturday.
Bochy noted that other Giants batters are also off to sluggish starts. He didn't mention names. But Pence is batting .167, and catcher Hector Sanchez is hitting .133 in limited appearances.
"They're all good hitters," Bochy said. "Their numbers will be up there at the end of the day. It'd be nice to get them up there now, though."
You know what would be especially nice? To see Sandoval drive in Sunday's winning run. He needs an angst-buster, and fast.