A.J. Burnett pitched a good inning to start today’s game, including picking off a runner at first. After the frame he was greeted in the dugout by his catcher, Tony Sanchez.
“Good job, good job,” Sanchez said to Burnett in the dugout. “Can you do me one favor please?”
“No, what?” Burnett responded. “It was a good first inning, what do you want?”
“Could you get out of the way a little bit when I’m throwing?” Sanchez asked.
Burnett doesn’t move off the mound after his last warm-up pitch. Sanchez had never caught Burnett in a game, so the young catcher didn’t know that. When Sanchez threw down to second in the first inning, the ball came a foot from Burnett’s head.
“I just don’t ever think about it,” Burnett said with a laugh. “Rod [Barajas] said he used to try to hit me too.”
Burnett ended up running off the mound really fast in the third inning, which got a cheer from Sanchez.
With Russell Martin out over the last week, Sanchez has had more opportunities behind the plate to catch some of the big league pitchers.
“That was my first time throwing to him, so I’m going to be sure and mention that it was fun working with him,” Burnett said. “He did a great job.”
Sanchez got a bit of a workout catching Burnett today. The right-hander was throwing his curveball more often, with the pitch ending up low in the zone and in the dirt a lot. Sanchez, who excels at pitch blocking, did a great job keeping the ball in front of him.
“I was trying to get one by him,” Burnett said.
“We’ve been impressed with all facets of Tony’s defense this Spring,” Clint Hurdle said after the game. “We knew it was going to be a good opportunity with him. And then with Russell [Martin] being down, more added games, volume of innings, catching more pitchers, more front-line guys. The ball blocking ability has always been there. He’s got a strong throwing arm. He’s taking some ownership of calling the game. Worked very well with A.J. today. So it’s been a real good experience so far for him.”
One strength with Sanchez’s receiving ability is something you don’t usually think about. Burnett talked about throwing his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, and how Sanchez doesn’t need to call them separately, and doesn’t need to know which pitch is coming to catch it.
“He’s good to work with. A lot of catchers can’t do the four-seam, two-seam,” Burnett said. “They have to call each of them. And I love catchers who don’t care which one you throw, they’re ready for either one. That’s huge for a pitcher. He’s calm back there.”
Russell Martin will return behind the plate tomorrow, which should cut down Sanchez’s opportunities this Spring. The young catcher will eventually be cut from major league camp. Martin will be starting in Pittsburgh, and Michael McKenry will be the backup. Sanchez will go to Indianapolis to start everyday, and work on his hitting. Eventually Sanchez will be catching in Pittsburgh — either as a starter or a backup — which makes this playing time with the major league pitchers very valuable.