DUNEDIN, Fla. — Tony Sanchez might not break camp as the Pirates’ No. 1 catcher for another year, but he isn’t discouraged. Nor should he be.
Sanchez exceeded expectations in 22 games with the Pirates in 2013 and is reveling in his first spring training on the heels of a season with significant big-league experience.
“I’ve already come to the realization that I’m going to be starting in Indy, and that’s what’s best for me,” said Sanchez. “Would I love to spend the entire year under Russell [Martin’s] tutelage making big-league minimum? Who wouldn’t? But I understand doing that would be detrimental for my development.”
Sanchez, a first-round pick by the Pirates in 2009, is projected to be the everyday catcher in 2015 after Martin becomes a free agent again. He hit .230 in 60 at-bats, with 2 home runs, 4 doubles and 5 RBIs in 2013.
He soaked up everything he could from Martin, who will be backed up by offseason acquisition Chris Stewart.
The organization wants Sanchez to have the opportunity to play every day in the minors.
“We’re three years removed from using seven or eight catchers in a season,” said manager Clint Hurdle. “He knows where he is, he knows what he’s got to continue to work on. He also got great involvement last year in a pennant chase and catching meaningful games. All those things put him in the mindset that we’re looking for Tony to be our front-line guy in the not too distant future.”
Behind the plate, he built a reputation as a good defensive catcher. Those qualities endeared him to one very important person, pitcher Francisco Liriano, who said the trust between the two was built quickly.
“No, it never comes that easy,” said Liriano. “He came out and wanted to learn and wanted to get better. We talked a lot. He asks a lot of questions, and I think he got a lot better since spring training last year. He’s on his way. He got pretty good very quickly, and I think he’s ready to go. He learned a lot.”
Sanchez said he learned how to call games better from just watching Martin and credited the veteran with the easy transition to catching Liriano.
“I think the thing that made the transition so easy, was, yes I’m light years behind Russell as a catcher, but I have some similar skill-sets that he does,” said Sanchez. “We both block [pitches] extremely well, we both receive the ball very well. I think in Liriano’s mind, maybe, subconsciously, it was like he’s almost throwing to the same guy. Now that could come off presumptuous. I’m not Russell Martin. I’m not anywhere near him, but we do both take pride in our blocking and receiving. I thought that made the transition a little easier.”
Either way, he has got a spring in his step this spring.
“I’m finally coming into a big-league camp with some time under my belt,” said Sanchez. “I spent time in the trenches with the guys in a playoff race … I was feeding them water, but I was in the trenches. I wasn’t hitting homers and driving in game-winning runs, but I was there. I had the team uniform on and I put my body on the line for some of those pitchers. For the first four years, they’d only heard about what I can do. Now that they’ve benefited [from] what I can do, you get that inevitable respect that everyone here wants.”
Sanchez back in lineup
Gaby Sanchez went 1 for 3 with a double in his first game back since a right knee injury kept him out for three games. Sanchez hit into a double play his first at-bat before doubling in Neil Walker in the third inning. He said he’s feeling fine but has a bruised knee.
Locke injury is minor
Non-roster invitee Jay Jackson made a spot start for the Pirates in place of Jeff Locke, who said the tightness in his right side is “very minor” and shouldn’t keep him from throwing off a mound for long.
Jackson pitched two innings and gave up just one hit, a single to Toronto catcher Dioner Navarro.
Jackson said he got about a day’s notice from pitching coach Ray Searage, but was scheduled to throw two innings Wednesday anyway.
“You always stay ready for whenever you get that call to go out there and do what you have to do,” said Jackson. “It wasn’t much different going out there and getting work in and showing them what I have. I’m always happy just to give up one hit and get outs. But that’s the main thing, getting outs.”
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter: @JennMenendez