Spring training | Gaby Sanchez showing Pirates what he can do when healthy

Healthy again, Pirates' Sanchez ready to regain All-Star form

adell@bradenton.comMarch 8, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The rise and fall of Gaby Sanchez happened so fast the average baseball fan might have missed it.

But Sanchez lived every second of his pro young career that saw him go from National League All-Star to minor-leaguer in a year.

Sanchez has the potential to rise as fast as he fell.

He had productive years in his first two big-league seasons (2010 and '11) with the Marlins, knocking out 38 homers and batting .273 and .266, respectively.

It seemed as if the sky was the limit.

But nothing seemed to go right last season, and the Marlins traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was batting .202 and had been demoted to Triple-A for about a month. The Pirates hoped Sanchez would give them a right-handed hitter to platoon at first with Garrett Jones. This spring, the Pirates have been working him out at third as well.

He showed a little improvement with the Pirates toward the end of last season, hitting .241 with four homers in 116 at-bats coming back from health issues.

The Pirates could be getting a steal in the 29-year-old.

Sanchez was hurt and missed most of his preseason conditioning last year because he was coming off arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a damaged patella tendon.

Now he is healthy and looking like the promising prospect who was selected in the fourth round of the 2005 draft after a solid career at the University of Miami. He finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2010.

Sanchez entered the Pirates game against the Tampa Rays on Thursday with a .417 batting average and two homers and a double in 12 at-bats. Those numbers don't include his 3-for-3 day with another homer

Tuesday in an exhibition against Spain.

Sanchez played third and had an error Thursday, but the Pirates are going to use patience with him because of his offensive skills.

"I feel like the strength is back in my legs, and I am feeling good at the plate," Sanchez said. "It's like I can feel my legs underneath me, and I am comfortable. It makes you feel like you can go out there and do it."

The native of Miami doesn't like to tell others that injuries affected his play last season, but it was evident. Now he hopes he can prove otherwise by showing how productive he can be when healthy.

"It was definitely frustrating, though you don't want to make excuses," Sanchez said. "I was hitting the ball, but I didn't think I had anything behind it. I was trying to play catch-up the entire season. Towards the end of the season I started to feel like I was coming around and then it was over."

One person who understood his troubles with his health is Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. He said because of the injury Sanchez was never in good shape, and that contributed to his slow start.

It has made Sanchez hungrier and willing to do anything to get in the lineup more. Hurdle has talked to him about platooning with Jones, and he has accepted the role.

"I can't get caught up in anything. Whenever I'm able to play, I will go out there and help the team win," Sanchez said. "I am just going to do whatever they tell me to do, give everything that I have and leave it all on the field. My only goal this spring is to be ready for the start of the season.

"Spring training is all about timing and staying healthy, and so far it's been good. There is a great team with a lot of talent in the clubhouse. The pitching staff is great, and Russell Martin is going to bring a different dynamic behind the plate. There are a lot of guys on this team who want to go out there and win games, and that's what you need."

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