First Pitch: What to do About Jonathan Sanchez in the Short-Term?

Jonathan Sanchez
Jonathan Sanchez has at least one more start before Francisco Liriano returns. Photo credit: David Hague

Francisco Liriano had a great start on Thursday. He threw five innings for Indianapolis, allowing one run on four hits, with no walks and eight strikeouts.

Jonathan Sanchez didn’t have a good start on Friday. He was ejected from his start after allowing two homers in the first inning, then hitting Allen Craig with a pitch.

For Sanchez, that wasn’t a fluke. On the season he has given up 16 earned runs in 11.1 innings. He’s only made it through five innings once out of four starts, and it’s leading to an overworked bullpen. The Pirates will eventually need to replace him, and Francisco Liriano would be an obvious choice after that last rehab start. The problem is that Liriano isn’t ready.

Liriano threw 79 pitches in his start with Indianapolis. He’s scheduled to go 90 pitches in his next start, then 100 in his final rehab start. Everything lines up for a May 10th return. He’s basically in Spring Training right now. He’s made three starts, meaning he’s in about mid-March mode. The Pirates can’t really call him up early because he’s not stretched out to throwing more than 80 pitches in a start.

Charlie Morton is in the same situation. Morton makes a rehab start tomorrow with Altoona. In his last start he only threw 69 pitches and four innings. So even if he jumps up to five innings and 80 pitches tomorrow, he won’t be ready in time for Sanchez’s next start.

So what do the Pirates do with Sanchez in the short-term? Looking at the probable pitching chart, Sanchez has two more scheduled starts before May 10th, when Liriano is expected to return. He really only needs to make the May 1st start. Because of the off-day on May 6th, the Pirates could move A.J. Burnett up to take Sanchez’s May 8th start. Jeff Locke could take the May 9th start, Wandy Rodriguez could go May 10th, and Francisco Liriano could debut on May 11th. That would keep everyone on five days rest and give Sanchez just one more start in the rotation.

The problem is that one more start might be too much, considering how over-worked the bullpen has been, and how unreliable Sanchez has been. Morton and Liriano aren’t options. Also, Phil Irwin is dealing with arm fatigue, so they couldn’t turn to him for a spot start on the 1st. That leaves the Pirates with the following choices.

1. Bite the bullet and go with Sanchez for one more start. Hope he goes at least five innings and doesn’t over-work your bullpen. Sanchez has a pending suspension for six games, which would remove this option. However, he can still appeal, so for now nothing is official.

2. Go with Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro in a piggyback start. That doesn’t seem like it would help the bullpen usage, although you could move Sanchez to the pen right now, and go with an eight man bullpen and a four man rotation until Liriano returns. So that adds to the bullpen. The Pirates also have an off-day on May 2nd, then Burnett and Rodriguez throwing May 3rd and 5th, respectively, followed by an off-day on the 6th. That should allow the pen to recover.

3. Go with a spot starter from Triple-A. Right now the only option would be Andy Oliver, who has been struggling with control, but has looked dominant this season prior to his last outing. This would also allow the Pirates to move Sanchez to the bullpen and go with an eight man pen until Liriano returns. The problem is that they’d have to send someone down to make room for Oliver.

I feel like the first and the second options are about the same. I don’t think a combo of Gomez and Mazzaro will provide any more security than Sanchez. And the way Sanchez has been pitching, we might see those two anyway. Option three doesn’t add any more of a guarantee, although it does add the possibility that Oliver could come up with an unexpected result and do better than Sanchez, Gomez, or Mazzaro could do. The Pirates would have to send someone down, but they’re going to have to do that no matter what when Jose Contreras comes up on May 3rd. So they’d just be making that move two days early, and adding a spot starter to replace Sanchez.

Either way, the Pirates have one more start of Jonathan Sanchez remaining, at the most. That might be too much. They’ve got options if they don’t want to go with Sanchez. Those options don’t really add much of a guaranteed upgrade. However, if they go with someone other than Sanchez, that would allow them to move Sanchez to the bullpen in the short-term, giving a tired bullpen an extra arm. So even without the guarantee, going with someone other than Sanchez could provide some sort of upgrade to this team in the short-term.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5.

**Be sure to check out the new podcast: P3 Episode 1: The Bullpen, Snider, and a Nick Kingham Interview.

**Prospect Watch: Cole Has Best Start of the Year, Taillon Strikes Out Seven.

**Minor League Schedule: 4/28/13.

**Pirates Continue Their Late Inning Hitting to Beat St. Louis 5-3.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Strong Pitching All Around.

**Phil Irwin Dealing With Arm Fatigue.

**Jose Contreras Promoted to Indianapolis.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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This should be a no brainer. Unless it is a prohibitive financial obligation owed to Sanchez he should be gone now. Major league baseball teams bring guys up for spot starts all the time and you have nothing to lose when you are replacing a guy who hasn’t made it over 3 and a third innings in a start. Bryan Morris came up and gave them 3 innings and no runs and has been primarily a starter in the minors. Wilson was a starter in the minors and has pitched close to three innings in the majors. Neither Wilson or Morris were taken out because they were in trouble. If the Pirates are even considering pitching Sanchez again at all then they don’t believe in their farm system at all.


If the Pirates have no other options, why not bring up both Liriano and Morton. Let Liriano pitch 80-90 pitches (or 5 innings, whichever comes first, and then let Morton have 3-4 innings imediately after that. This would give them both the workout they need, would have to be better than Sanchez, and would give the bullpen a complete break for one day. The only problem I see is figuring out the roster. Getting rid of Sanchez is easy for one spot for Liriano, but you’d have to shorthand the bench or bullpen for a little while to carry both Liriano and Morton.

Mick Duyvestyn

What about upgrading Justin Wilson from the pen for a spot start? He looks damn impressive so far, has the right pitch variety and control


Jonathon Sanchez has not pitched more than 5 innings in his last 24 MLB starts. He isn’t even replacement level. Please no mas……

Really, this is a good team. Sanchez is a dog.


No matter what the Pirates do, Sanchez has put them in a hole, I do not think there is a good scenario Wednesday. Don’t forget they are playing the Brewers and I don’t think they have a pitcher in the organization that matches up with them, So IMO, it does not make much difference who throws on Wednesday, because the bullpen is going to get a lot of work for sure.
Keeping Sanchez in the bullpen at this point is just mop up duty, there is no way he comes into a game that is on the line or even close.


DFA Sanchez and let Kris Johnson have a go at it for 1 start.


I agree with Dom, they have to go with a spot start from Oliver. At least he has the chance of eating some innings. What I think we are all missing is that Sanchez apparently made friends with God while pitching in San Francisco. It was a perfect storm of injuries and some decent ST pitching that got him on this team. NH hands were basically tied (without making a trade) when it came to the rotation.

Becky Alcorn

Why in the world would you move Sanchez to the pen, Tim? He should be released today and you can use that spot to shuttle RP to the majors to fill innings. The can start Jeanmar on May 1st in Milwaukee and go with any rotation of Morris, Black, and Welker to fill needed innings.

Its painfully obvious to anyone with internet access that Sanchez is beyond done. This was obvious before the season even started. What in the world are they thinking?


Tim, you have a blind spot when it comes to J Sanchez. He is awful. Last 91 innings, he has a ERA over 9.00. He crushes your bullpen, throws way too many balls, and oh yeah he loses the game almost every time 20 of 24.
Putting him in bullpen is a bad idea. Not reliable.

Richard Ya'Zhynka

I hope that on October 1 we’re not looking back at a May 1st start by Jonathan Sanchez as the Pirates miss the playoffs by one game.

Becky Alcorn

If there is a May 1st Sanchez start, NH should be fired. If he can seriously look at Sanchez’s last two seasons and conclude that he should be a MLB pitcher he has serious issues in talent evaluation.

IC Bob

What about Johnson at AAA? Isn’t he still around? I know he isn’t on the 40 but what would that matter? We dump Sanchez and that frees a spot. If he pitches great then decide what to do at that point.

Lee Young

I don’t think he’s ready, but what would be the harm in bringing Cole up for a spot start?



Lee Young

Gerrit Cole, RHP 2-1, 2.31 ERA!!!!

Richard Ya'Zhynka

15 walks in 23.1 innings!


the Pirates have off days on May 2nd and also May 6th.
JSanchez is scheduled to pitch on May 1st. There has to be
a way to bypass his start to take advantage of those off days.
maybe someone can Crash Davis the ballpark and leave the
sprinklers running all night.

Dom DiDominic

Must just be riding Sanchez just until the suspension comes down, then they will DFA him. Best option is Oliver for a spot start. Then Contreras can replace Oliver. Then the next time a started is needed, Liriano will be ready and Mazzaro will be send down.
Gomez has been OK, but will only last until Morton is ready

NorCal Buc


Sanchez in the pen??? He HAS NOT retired batters as a starter.



NCB: Agree 100%. Also, any option that does not include Bryan Morris is ridiculous. Last year -AAA, 81 IP out of the bullpen, 2-2, 2.67 ERA, 79K/17W/GO/AO of 1.96. So far in AAA in 2013 0-0, 1.69 ERA, 5 IP, Huge GO/AO, 4K/1W, and he pitched 3 hitless innings in the majors earlier this year.

No reason to keep Walker on the active with 2 off days in early May – put him on the 7 day DL, send down Sanchez, and bring up Morris at least..

Kerry Writtenhouse

The 7 day DL is for concussions, so that’s not an option. If they can go with a 4 man rotation for the time being, I’d designate Sanchez and bring up either Harrison or Presley. Bringing up Morris wouldn’t be a bad idea either to help out the bullpen.


Thanks for the info – I never knew there was a definition or a limitation related to a trip to the DL.


Who gets sent down in option 3?
(or when Contreras gets here for that matter)

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