ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As his cab approached Angel Stadium Friday afternoon, Tony Sanchez couldn't help but think how much his taxi squad stint earlier this season prepared him for this moment.
Though he earned his first official call-up to a major league roster Friday, Sanchez spent a day with the Pirates in May on the team's taxi squad, a roster exception that allows teams to carry a player for 24 hours in anticipation of a roster move.
Sanchez spent a day with the Pirates at Citi Field in New York before the team sent him back to Class AAA Indianapolis, never needing to make that roster move. Though he never got into a game, Sanchez said he learned a lot in that time that prepared him for Friday, when the Pirates recalled him for the first time.
"You kind of knew what to expect," Sanchez said. "You knew what to see -- the eyes, the hugs, the greetings. I knew how to fall asleep last night, a little better. The plane trip wasn't as anxious."
To make room on the 25-man roster, the Pirates optioned right-handed pitcher Brandon Cumpton to Indianapolis. The Pirates could use the extra bat with five consecutive games in American League ballparks, where they will use a designated hitter.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the team recalled Sanchez because they were scheduled to face two left-handed starters in their five-game swing against American League West Division opponents, Anaheim and Seattle. But Jason Vargas, who was scheduled to pitch today, was placed on the disabled list, and right-hander Billy Buckner will pitch in his place.
Sanchez, 25, was the Pirates' first-round draft pick in 2009, the fourth overall. After some early success, he missed most of the 2010 season with a broken jaw after getting hit by a couple of pitches. When he returned, he struggled at the plate.
But Sanchez, always praised for his defensive abilities, saw a resurgence in his offensive game this season, hitting nine home runs and posting a .306 batting average in Indianapolis. He said his one-day experience with the Pirates helped motivate him even more to get to the major league level.
"As beautiful of a park as Victory Field [in Indianapolis] is, I walked back to that place saying I want to play in a place like Citi Field or PNC [Park]," he said.
He had long dreamt of the day he would join a major league roster.
And when he spent one day with the Pirates at Citi Field, he couldn't help but be disappointed.
"You get so hyped up to get your first call-up, and it doesn't happen the way you draw it out to happen. But, look, I'm right back where I should be."
Pitcher Duke Welker, who also didn't see any playing time in his first brief stint with the Pirates, said he has seen Sanchez grow at and behind the plate in their years together in the minor leagues.
"His arm is probably his biggest strength," Welker said. "He's just very athletic and very mobile back there. I've been blessed and fortunate to have him as a catcher all the way up through the ranks."
The Pirates signed eighth-round draft pick Neil Kozikowski, a right-handed high school pitcher out of Connecticut, and 22nd-round pick Henry Hirsch, a right-handed pitcher out of the University of New Haven (Conn.), the team announced Friday.
The Pirates have signed 18 picks thus far, though top pick Austin Meadows, a high school outfielder, remains unsigned.
By optioning Cumpton, the Pirates have an opening in their rotation Wednesday when they play the Seattle Mariners and Felix Hernandez.
Hurdle said Gerrit Cole is "definitely a candidate" for that start, as he would have five days of rest before then. The Pirates could activate Jeanmar Gomez as early as today and place him in the bullpen. But if they don't need the relief arm, he could also be considered for that start.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino.