June was simply a month to forget for Tony Sanchez. From June 5 to June 30, Sanchez went 5-for-55 at the plate, dropping his season average at Triple-A under the Mendoza line.
“I hit .280 in that small sample size in the big leagues,” Sanchez said. “I came down here expecting to hit .380. Baseball doesn’t work that way, but it’s not like I came down here and changed any mechanics or changed my mindset. I am doing the exact same thing that I was doing up there, down here.”
The catcher is currently hitting .203 with five home runs and eight doubles. He has a .682 OPS on the season.
Sanchez got off to a quick start after being optioned to Indianapolis on May 23. In his first nine games, he went 10-for-32 with a pair of home runs and three doubles. However, June brought the drought.
While two of the five hits in the drought were home runs, Sanchez is pleased to have June in the rear view mirror. Sanchez is off to a better start in July, with a .280 average and an .819 OPS in 25 at-bats.
“There’s nothing different [in July] really,” Sanchez said. “I have been watching plenty of video and putting in countless hours in the cage – [Indianapolis hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo], Rudy [Pena] and I. There is nothing that I am doing pre-pitch from what I was doing in the big leagues to what I am doing here. I just seemed to run into a spell of bad luck.”
Sanchez pointed to slumps “all of 2011 and 2012” as experience in learning how to deal with them and break out of them. He said that knowing what he is capable of at this level and the next level keeps those valley fairly short typically.
While Pagliarulo said that the Indianapolis staff is pretty cohesive, he said that a change of environment can always take its toll on a player. He thinks that it may have contributed to the slump.
“When you have a major league player who comes down, you have a lot of things going on,” Pagliarulo said. “We try to simulate what they do in Pittsburgh, here, to make it easier on the players. There is always that adjustment period and I think that he is over it.”
Sanchez pointed to his defensive duties as an aspect to aid those slumps. Finding a happy medium between the two helps keep his mind off the declines.
“Thank goodness that I catch,” Sanchez said. “I couldn’t imagine being an outfielder and hitting under .200 for the month of June because that would be borderline miserable. I have my [at bat], then I have about 10 seconds in the dugout where I can think about it before I have to know how I am attacking the next three guys in that lineup that we are facing.”
Sanchez said that this thought process helps him sometimes and is taxing to him others. He does not put a lot of stake in his at bats at times, while he is focusing more on his job behind the plate.
Sanchez has also seen his share of troubles behind the dish with Indianapolis this season. He has only caught 6-of-43 attempted base stealers this season. He also has seven errors and four passed balls.
“I have actually never felt better behind the plate,” Sanchez said. “I came down here with the mindset that I need to get more consistent behind the plate with my throwing. For them to want me to be the guy next year, I need to be consistent and I can’t be a liability. I can’t have two good days and have one bad day. I have to be that same guy every day of the week and give nine quality innings back there.”
While he is not sure whether the defensive focus took a toll on his hitting, Sanchez said that he also does not care because he is feeling good behind the dish currently.
Pagliarulo pointed out that he has seen progress in the defensive game for Sanchez, while stating that his at bats in the past week have been excellent. The defensive work that he alluded to includes communication and work that has been put in with the pitching staff and the coaches. He said that most important thing is getting Sanchez back to where he should be when he goes back up.
While Sanchez would rather be in Pittsburgh, he realizes that he is gaining experience catching some of the hurlers that he could see there next season, including Jeff Locke, Casey Sadler, Brandon Cumpton, and even possibly Nick Kingham. He also had an opportunity to catch Francisco Liriano on a rehab assignment on July 8.
“It’s huge,” Sanchez said about catching those pitchers. “In a night like [July 8], Liriano comes in and I know what to throw to get him right and make sure he feels right getting him ready for the big leagues…I have caught Jeff Locke since 2009, so I know him like the back of my hand. It does make it easier when you catch those guys and have a relationship with them.”
While it is clear that defense is really the major obstacle keeping Sanchez in Indianapolis and not Pittsburgh, the size of the slump has to be disconcerting as well after he saw some offensive success in the big leagues. However, still being on the 40 man roster, there is no doubt that Sanchez will get another look in September. The success that he has both offensively and defensively will go a long way toward his future, as the Pirates will eventually have to decide on Russell Martin, along with the backup catcher next year.