BOSTON -- Pablo Sandoval's tumultuous start to the season took a bizarre turn Wednesday when the Boston Red Sox placed him on the 15-day disabled list with a left shoulder strain, the root of which is a mystery to all involved.
"To give you an exact moment when it took place, I don't have that, to be honest," manager John Farrell said. "He's been hitting a lot extra before [batting practice] and during the game in the cage."
Sandoval, who lost his starting job at third base to Travis Shaw in spring training, said he doesn't believe that's how it occurred. But he explained only that he woke up Wednesday with soreness. He said he dealt with a similar shoulder problem in August 2011 with the San Francisco Giants, although it appears it caused him to miss only one game.
"Before yesterday, I didn't feel nothing weird," Sandoval said. "This morning, I woke up and I couldn't even move my arm. Something happened. We'll see what's going on later when the doctor gets here."
Sandoval was expected to get a more complete diagnosis after seeing team doctors Wednesday evening.
Sandoval, 29, signed a five-year, $95 million contract before last season. Listed at 5-foot-11, 255 pounds, he has always struggled with his weight, but some within the Red Sox organization believe it diminished his range defensively last season. An everyday player throughout his eight-year career in the big leagues, Sandoval is 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in a bench role that is further limited by his below-average speed and defense.
Because of his girth and his hefty contract, Sandoval has been a lightning rod for criticism. It also hasn't helped that his performance has been in a steady decline over the past few weeks, hitting bottom with the worst season of his career last year. In 126 games, he batted .245 with 10 homers and a .658 OPS, all career-lows over a full season.
Farrell said he wasn't aware of the injury until Sandoval reported to Fenway Park on Wednesday. It's telling, then, that Sandoval wasn't scheduled to be in the Red Sox's lineup, even though he is 14-for-39 with two homers in his career against Baltimore Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez.
And although Farrell pledged "my full support" for Sandoval, he also acknowledged that the breather afforded to him by going on the disabled list could provide more opportunity to work on his conditioning.
"Yes, and he's working very diligently on that," Farrell said. "He has my full support. Every player has needs. Panda's are outlined. There's a specific plan to address those, and we'll support him through it.
"It's been a real tough start. He's been an easy target. I've had a chance to sit and talk with him about that specifically. First and foremost, we've got to get him right physically to get past the shoulder issue. If a breather gives him a chance to maybe step away from the scrutiny he's under, we'll make every effort to have that take place."
The Red Sox selected infielder Josh Rutledge from Triple-A Pawtucket to take Sandoval's place. To make room on the 40-man roster for Rutledge, they transferred reliever Brandon Workman to the 60-day disabled list for his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery.
Ideally, the Red Sox would probably prefer to trade Sandoval, but the combination of his salary and his performance make him virtually immovable, especially if he isn't playing.
Sandoval is due to make $17 million this year and next and $18 million in both 2018 and 2019. The contract also includes a $5 million buyout of a $17 million club option in 2020.
"I signed here for five years, so I'm here. I'm going to be here," Sandoval said. "I love being here. I love my teammates. I love the fan support. Where am I going to go? Why am I going to be sad? Give me one reason to be sad, be mad. Why? I'm alive. I have daughters, one son coming, so nothing to worry about."
Said Farrell: "I still firmly believe that Panda is going to be a contributor to this team. We're going to need him to be, because there's a darn good player in there. We've got to continue to work to get that out."
The Red Sox also optioned outfielder Rusney Castillo to Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday after a 4-2 victory over the previously undefeated Orioles.
Like Sandoval, Castillo was a high-profile signing by former general manager Ben Cherington, agreeing in August 2014 to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract, the richest deal ever for a Cuban defector. But Castillo lost a spring-training competition for the left-field job and played in only one of the season's first eight games, a 3-for-4 performance last Saturday in Toronto. With righty-swinging Chris Young expected to play left field against left-handed pitchers, Castillo was relegated to being a fifth outfielder.
"I look at it as an opportunity to play every day and get better," Castillo said. "I'm excited at the opportunity to start every day, which is what I've always wanted to do."
The Red Sox didn't announce a corresponding roster move and, with a day off Thursday, are likely to wait until Friday.
One possibility: They could activate catcher Christian Vazquez from the disabled list. Vazquez is in the final stages of his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery. Farrell said the Red Sox haven't ruled out carrying three catchers, at least temporarily.