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Pablo Sandoval's thin skin not serving him well in Boston

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For the sake of accuracy, Pablo Sandoval's expression of displeasure Tuesday with a reporter who criticized his defense fell far short of a "rant," as it was described on Twitter by a media member who wasn't there. Sandoval did, in fact, slam his bat on a clubhouse table, though the confrontation with his detractor was otherwise calm and lasted for less than one minute.

That really isn't the point here.

The point, quite clearly, is that Sandoval has remarkably thin skin for someone entering his ninth big-league season. The embattled Boston Red Sox third baseman can be both hypersensitive, be it about his struggle to control his weight or his wretched 2015 season, and outwardly emotional, a combination that generally doesn't play well in a market like Boston.

Just ask Carl Crawford. Or John Lackey. Or even Edgar Renteria.

We saw it last spring, when Sandoval took issue with an unflattering picture snapped by a Boston.com producer and shared on social media above a snarky weight-related comment. Rather than tuning it out, Sandoval responded by challenging the media to work out with him as proof of how hard he trains.

A few weeks later, Sandoval blasted the San Francisco Giants, his former team, for disrespecting him in contract negotiations in 2014, even though they wound up matching the Red Sox's five-year, $95 million offer before last season. He also said manager Bruce Bochy and outfielder Hunter Pence were the only people he missed from an organization with which he won three World Series and became wildly popular.

Sandoval then endured the worst season of his career, making him an easy target for fans frustrated by the Red Sox's second consecutive last-place finish. Yet when he reported to camp in February, he characterized 2015 as "not a disappointment" and said he has "nothing to prove." English is Sandoval's second language, but he had to know defiance wasn't the way to win anybody over.

Now, after this week's episode, it's fair to doubt whether Sandoval is cut out for the intense scrutiny that accompanies playing in Boston.

"I don't [have that doubt], personally," said manager John Farrell, who nevertheless felt the need Wednesday to ask infield coach Brian Butterfield about Sandoval's confidence level in the face of all the criticism. "He's got the support of his teammates. He's got the support of us, the coaching staff. He's a prideful person. He's a competitor. He wants to do well. He's working each day to get better at it."

It wasn't like this in San Francisco, of course. Out there, Sandoval was beloved as the huggable "Kung Fu Panda." Fans wore panda heads to AT&T Park, bought jerseys with his name on the back, and overlooked the fact his belly spilled over his belt buckle because he smiled all the time and got big hits in the postseason.

After seven years in that environment, Sandoval surely thought Red Sox fans would embrace him, too. And they might have, if only he had kept up a pace that had him batting .329 on May 2. Instead, he batted .226 with a .613 OPS for the rest of the season and played such atrocious defense that he ranked 11 runs below average among third basemen, according to Baseball Info Solution's calculation of defensive runs saved.

Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez were the Red Sox's "Gold Bust Twins," high-priced free-agent imports who ranked among the least valuable players in the big leagues.

Farrell suggested last season that Sandoval's girth might have contributed to his defensive downfall. But while multiple accounts indicated Sandoval trained hard in the offseason, he reported to camp looking as overweight as ever. And by committing three errors through his first 10 spring-training games, he has given his critics all the ammunition they need to continue hammering him.

Butterfield works with Sandoval each morning on elements as fundamental as the positioning of his glove. He describes Sandoval's feet as "light" and believes, results notwithstanding, that the 29-year-old is making progress toward returning to the level of an above-average third baseman, a status he achieved with the Giants.

"I think he's in a good place defensively and that's so important, especially getting out of the gate and especially the demands that there are in Boston," Butterfield said. "I think that's really important for him. Right now, I think he's in a good spot, and I'm with him."

Sometimes, though, it seems like Sandoval believes everyone in Boston is against him. Crawford felt that way after his dismal first season with the Red Sox in 2011 and never recovered.

"It's going to be that way every single day," Sandoval told reporters Wednesday. "Just smile and keep walking. Nothing you can do."

Except, of course, to play better, the only foolproof way to win over Red Sox fans. Short of that, Sandoval will need to develop a thicker skin, every bit as essential for survival in Boston as a winter coat.