It was not his Major League debut, but it might have been better.
Tony Sanchez made his first Pirates start at catcher in Game 2 of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals, and it was a whirlwind. His favorite catcher of the last decade, St. Louis’ Yadier Molina, wished him good luck in the bullpen. He jumped out of the dugout to cheers and 40,000 sets of eyeballs.
“Nerve-racking. Overwhelming,” Sanchez said about that moment. “Kind of like all eyes are on you, just because everybody knows I’m the guy who has struggled the most. This has been a long road for me.”
Four summers after the Pirates drafted Sanchez in the 1st round, everyone was watching the 25-year-old catcher direct a 6-0 shutout of the Cardinals to keep 1st place in the National League Central division. Now he is back behind the plate again Thursday night, spelling Russell Martin’s day off to nurse a sore knee, to finish off a five-game sweep of the Cards.
“I know Tony doesn’t take anything for granted,” Jeff Locke, former minor league teammate of Sanchez, said. “He’s like a little kid up here. He’s excited every day… He can’t wait to be out there.”
“I’ve Been to the Bottom”
But Locke admits Sanchez has had to face plenty of criticism. Originally expected to take the fast lane to the Majors, Sanchez had to play 296 games between Double-A and Triple-A over the last three years before his first MLB start at catcher.
Sanchez often felt his Major-League chance would never arrive.
“Absolutely. I’m not gonna lie,” Sanchez said. “I thought when I was hitting .240 in Double-A my second year, it’s not gonna work out… I’ve been to the bottom of the barrel as far as adversity goes.”
So how did Sanchez push through injuries and a mediocre 2011 season to join the Pirates in the thick of a pennant race? How did the former No. 4 overall pick stay positive?
“You tell yourself you were picked at that spot for a reason,” Sanchez said.
Here he is now, the Pirates catcher of the future. His face lights up talking about catching warmup pitches from childhood idol A.J. Burnett, about hugging bench coach Jeff Banister (who Sanchez says has helped him from the beginning), about playing in front of Pittsburgh fans yelling his Twitter handle “Tony Montana” at him.
“I’m such an attention guy. I love attention,” Sanchez said. “It’s hard for me not to look back and smile.”
- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had no issue with his general manager maintaining the status quo at Wednesday’s trade deadline instead of overpaying for a Major League hitter. “The safety net is the existing players that are out there… That’s why you don’t have to be insane.”
Hurdle brought up Gaby Sanchez, Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, Russell Martin, Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte as players who could start hitting better over the final two months.
“They just think there’s more success for them on the offensive side with just a little bit more consistency,” Hurdle said.
The manager also shared a funny story about meeting a talkative fan, and Bucs Dugout’s David Manel provides the details.
- Wandy Rodriguez (left forearm tightness) threw from 100 feet on flat ground Wednesday, continuing his long-toss program before he takes his injury recovery to the mound.
- The Pirates’ have MLB’s second-best home record at 36-18, bested only by the Atlanta Braves’ 37-15 home mark. But the Pirates also have the best record in all baseball games, so…