Figuring out Pablo Sandoval's role will be challenging for Red Sox

CLEVELAND -- This isn't the way Pablo Sandoval planned to open the season.

And we're not talking about the snow.

As expected, Sandoval wasn't in the Boston Red Sox's Opening Day lineup before Monday's game against the Cleveland Indians was postponed for bitter cold and a change in the forecast that called for an increased chance of precipitation. Travis Shaw won the third-base job in spring training, and last Thursday manager John Farrell relegated Sandoval to the bench.

On Monday, Farrell was noncommittal about when Sandoval would make his first start and acknowledged it will be "the biggest change for all of us" to figure out how to keep the 29-year-old veteran ready to play after seven consecutive seasons of starting at least 100 games.

"It's different," Sandoval said. "I have to be positive and do all the work that I'm going to be doing."

And that is?

"I have to come early every day and do my work," said Sandoval, the portly third baseman who signed a five-year, $95 million contract before last season, then had the worst year of his career amid a continued struggle with his weight. "It's more mentally right now. Come early, do my work, get ready for every situation of the game. I'm just going to be ready."

But all the preparation in the world won't guarantee that Sandoval will be useful to the Red Sox in a bench role.

For one thing, he hasn't done it since the 2010 postseason, when the San Francisco Giants benched him in favor of third baseman Juan Uribe. Over the past five seasons, Sandoval has gotten only 18 pinch-hit at-bats, notching three hits and two RBIs.

It's also unclear what situation would arise for Farrell to use Sandoval, who doesn't offer positional versatility or fit as a late-game defensive replacement. He's a switch-hitter who typically fares much better from the left side of the plate. Shaw and utility man Brock Holt, who figures to see significant time in left field, are also left-handed hitters.

"I will say this: We need every one of our 25 guys to contribute," Farrell said. "For Pablo, in particular, this is going to be a different beginning to a season. The role has certainly changed. How he and I and the rest of our staff communicate with him, put together a work plan to keep him prepared and keep him moving forward, that's probably the biggest change for all of us."

Several Red Sox players, specifically ace lefty David Price, have been impressed with the way Sandoval handled his demotion. Sandoval's agent, Rick Thurman of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, on Friday advocated his client starting by telling MLB Network, "If you want to win, why leave the Ferrari in the garage?" And though that comment likely reflects Sandoval’s feelings, Panda had the good sense to distance himself, saying it "didn’t come from me."

It's also worth noting that Sandoval responded favorably after the 2010 postseason, reclaiming the Giants' third-base job in 2011 and batting .315 with 23 home runs and a .909 OPS.

"Nothing to be frustrated, nothing to be [ticked] about, because it was a battle in spring training," Sandoval said. "We knew it was a battle. [Shaw] did a great job in spring training. The team made a decision. I just want to keep focused and help the team however I can. Like I said, smile and keep working and support your teammates.

"Every guy's a part of this team. Every guy has to do his job to contribute to this team to win the games."

But unlike most of his teammates, Sandoval can't be certain exactly what his job entails.