by: John Tomase on Mon, 03/06/2017 - 6:53pm

Pablo Sandoval (right) has had plenty of reason to accept congrats this spring. (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Here's how we know Pablo Sandoval's spring training is progressing swimmingly: we're not talking about Pablo Sandoval.

The man who arrived in Fort Myers with his every move scrutinized under a lens the size of the Hubble telescope has not given his critics even an ounce of grist to mill.

Two years ago, he sniped at a reporter who snapped an unflattering photo of his ample belly. Last year, he slammed his bat in frustration at a scribe who hadn't even written anything particularly insulting.

This year, however, it might as well be Camp Zen for Sandoval, who has barely raised his voice during an encouraging start, which continued in Monday's tie against the Astros. Sandoval went 1-for-3 with a single and run scored, and also made a solid defensive play on a slow roller.

With the Red Sox basically entrusting third base to him without a competition, Sandoval has done nothing to shake their confidence. While it's too soon to declare his reclamation on par with the one Hanley Ramirez undertook last spring, it's a good start.

"To his credit, he had to make the first move, and that was the commitment to getting himself in better shape," said manager John Farrell. "He's got a chance to rewrite his story, and he's taken the first step. The other step was to go out and perform, and you know what, right now he's doing that."

This is still only a first step, and a tentative one at that. If Sandoval follows a .440 spring training with a .180 April, we all know which one he'll be hearing about.

But for now, Sandoval is putting his head down, punching the clock, and going to work. (He just happens to be making about $9,000 an hour).

So what does Sandoval think of this drama-free start to camp?

"That's the thing that I learned," he said. "It's not the things you do in the past. It's the things you have to do to prove to yourself and prove to the team and proves to the fans that you're better in the field. That's what I do. I just came here this year to work and get my team to the finals. That's my main goal, to get the team to the World Series.

"I just focus on playing baseball. That thing's going to be there no matter what, no matter what you do on the field, what you do in your personal life. All of those things are going to be there. People are always going to talk, bad or good. I'm just focused on playing my game. Those things don't have to bother me to play baseball."

Sandoval ripped a single to right-center, grounded out, and struck out. The strikeout came right-handed, a swing which remains a work in progress. He's now hitting .333 (6-for-18) this spring with two doubles and two RBIs.

But more than the numbers is the way he has looked. He's swinging with authority from the left side, and he's making more athletic plays at third base.

"He's shown much better range," Farrell said. "He came in on a ball on a slow roller again. He's made that play a couple of times now. He's made a barehand play that he's come in on. The left-handed swing, and really, he took some good swings right-handed today even though he did strike out. We're seeing a different guy this spring even than we did two springs ago, with the mobility and the swings that he's taken."

This was all part of Sandoval's plan after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. He hit in the cage all winter so that his timing would be there when spring arrived. He dropped around 40 pounds to increase his quickness and overall health. And he didn't ignore his defense.

"The other thing I work on in the offseason is getting my first step back," he said. "That was the main goal for me. When I got the first step back I just wanted to try and catch the ball no matter what."

Will the good times last? We won't know until the season starts. What's clear right now, however, is that Sandoval's in a much better place both physically and mentally, and it's making a difference.

"Why would I want to be in bad moments?" he said. "I'm learning a lot of things in baseball. I've learned a lot of things from people around me who are teaching me the right way to be successful. You have to work hard, you have to prove yourself that you're better than that."