Panda raises the bar in defensive clinic

Falls into Astros' dugout on catch; starts 5-6-3 DP in shift

Panda raises the bar in defensive clinic

BOSTON -- Although he's not quite known for his fleetness of foot, Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval still has a penchant for flashing moments of highlight-reel defense at the hot corner. On Saturday, he reminded fans that the dugout railing is no match for a fast-moving Panda during Boston's 6-1 win over the Astros at Fenway Park.

In the fourth inning, outfielder Preston Tucker led off by hitting a popup into foul territory along the edge of the Houston dugout. Sandoval tracked the ball, reached over the railing and tumbled into the dugout, but he held on to make an impressive catch for the out.

"Got poked in the eyes, but I still made the play," said a smiling Sandoval.

With a sellout crowd of 36,703 on hand for Independence Day, Sandoval received rousing applause as he climbed back over the fence. He claimed it was the fourth time he'd made such a play.

"You have to figure out how far out you are from the rail. The first thing that I did was grab it," Sandoval said. "That's something that everyone teaches you in the Minor Leagues"

Sandoval's double play

Sandoval showcased more quality defense in the seventh, when he began a pivotal 5-6-3 double play that helped erase a leadoff single allowed by starter Clay Buchholz. Even more impressively, he did so from second base, where the Sox positioned him in an aggressive defensive shift used against the left-handed-hitting Luis Valbuena.

Buchholz went on to finish a one-run complete game effort.

"It's exciting, especially in the position that I don't play," Sandoval said. "We worked on that position in Spring Training. That's an important out for [Buchholz], especially. He's been doing a great job on the mound."

Sandoval, widely considered an average to above average fielder, leads Boston with 10 errors and has made a handful of uncharacteristic mistakes in his first year with the team. But if his recent play is any indication, the 28-year-old slugger appears to be returning to form on defense.

"He's moving well," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "I think his reads off the bat have been a little bit more timely. His direction is allowing him to not get caught in between hops as much. He made a couple of really good plays to his backhand up in Toronto.

"He's got plenty of arm strength when he gloves a ball down the line like that. He's playing solid defense right now."

Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.