Chris Stewart surgery affects Tony Sanchez's status with Pirates

PIRATES



FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Catcher Chris Stewart had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Wednesday that could keep him out for four to six weeks, disrupting for the moment the Pirates' plans to start Tony Sanchez in the minor leagues and creating the opportunity for Sanchez to start the season on the active roster.

That possibility has occurred to Sanchez.

"I think I've thought about it a little too much," he said. "The fact that there's a good possibility I could break camp, you don't want it to be under these circumstances, but you play the hand you're dealt."

Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure, which shaved down the meniscus in Stewart's right knee. The rate at which the swelling subsides in the next few days will influence the recovery time, but Stewart's agent, Jim Kuzmich, referred to the procedure as the "best-case scenario."

Stewart, 32, felt some pops in his knee March 12 in a game, Kuzmich said, and Stewart opted against taking one more plate appearance when the coaching staff asked him if he wanted one. The knee tightened after that.

"The next day, he came in and said, 'You know, this just doesn't feel right,' " Kuzmich said.

The Pirates acquired Stewart from the New York Yankees in December so he could serve as the backup to Russell Martin, allowing Sanchez, 25, to spend another year as the everyday catcher with Class AAA Indianapolis rather than playing sporadically as a big-league reserve. Manager Clint Hurdle said he would be comfortable with Sanchez on the active roster. The Pirates also might look to add a catcher from outside the organization.

"Regardless of what they do as far as picking somebody up or giving it to me, I try not to let it affect how I come to the yard every day," Sanchez said. "I still need to come here. I still need to play well. I still need to control what I can control."

A four- to six-week recovery puts Stewart's possible return between mid and late April. Depth is another factor in the decision regarding whether to look elsewhere. If they acquire an extra backstop and that catcher or Martin gets hurt, they would still have Sanchez waiting in the minors.

Omir Santos, 32, a non-roster invitee catcher, has experience in the majors in parts of five seasons, including 306 plate appearances in 96 games with the New York Mets in 2009.

Sanchez, the fourth overall pick out of Boston College in the 2009 draft, debuted in 2013. He had 14 hits, including four doubles and two homers, in 60 at-bats. He started 11 games in August and September, when the Pirates were in the hunt for a playoff spot.

"The biggest thing for me was building off last year and continuing to believe that I can be the hitter that they drafted," Sanchez said. "Last year was a big year for me confidence-wise. The two years prior to that, [when] I struggled, put a huge dent in that confidence. Last year, I was like, oh my God, yes, I'm a good hitter. This is what it's like. This is how I used to be."

Before 2013, Sanchez had not served as a backup in a long time and said he would have to learn the finer points of the role. That includes dieting: Because pounds won't simply fall off while he squats and sweats behind the plate for nine innings five or six times a week, he said, he'll need to pay attention to what he eats.

Sanchez said he will continue to watch Martin but won't pester him due to all of the demands on Martin's time.

"Watching him call pitches, when he calls pitches for certain guys in certain situations, how he controls the running game, how he blocks, receiving," Sanchez said. "A guy like Russ, who's playing every day, he's got a lot to worry about."

For now, Sanchez will spend his time attempting to build on his hitting, which included a .288 average and 10 home runs with Indianapolis in 2013. He wants to improve defensively as well.

"I'm trying not to get my hopes up," he said. "Nothing is written in stone. I will not be surprised if they do make a move. Obviously I'm gunning toward me being that No. 2 guy."

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.


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