Freddy Sanchez update:
By ALAN ROBINSON Sunday, March 25, 2007
BRADENTON, Fla. - The swing that produced a .344 average and a National League batting title last season looks fine. Line drives jump off his bat during batting practice, just like they have at every level of baseball Freddy Sanchez has played.
Fielding ground balls isn't a problem, and the shift from third base to second base was greeted by a shrug from a player who doesn't care what position he plays as long as he is in the lineup.
What is keeping Sanchez out of the Pittsburgh Pirates' lineup as spring training winds down is a troublesome strained right knee ligament that is preventing him from running at full speed. The injury was supposed to be a minor one when he was hurt turning a double play on March 6 _ a day-to-day proposition _ but it's been 2 1/2 weeks and he's not yet ready.
"It's frustrating. It's very disappointing, and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," Sanchez said Friday.
The Pirates aren't ready to say the injury may jeopardize Sanchez's status for opening day April 2 in Houston. Even if he returns the middle of next week, Sanchez would have three or four days of exhibition game at-bats to get readjusted to game-speed pitching.
A hitter such as Sanchez who uses spring training to perfect his swing, adjust his timing and locate pitches can't help but be disrupted by such a long layoff, especially one that occurred only a week into the exhibition schedule. Even when he does return he will be playing catch-up, something he didn't want to be doing the final week of camp.
"It's tough, but what can you do?" he said. "I don't care if I get one hit in spring training, I don't go out there to get three or four hits in spring training. I go out there to work on things: seeing the ball better, picking up different pitches, just the basic stuff. The only way to do that is to see live pitching, game pitching. I can go hit off a tee, hit in the cage, but it's not the same as seeing big league pitching every day."
Sanchez can do everything he needs to do to play, except run. Until he is confident that he can try to stretch a single into a double without pain, or go all out to try to beat out an infield single, he won't play. If he re-injures the knee now, it could be months before he would play again.
"Until Freddy gets to the point where he feels totally confident in wanting to go out and run the bases, we can't play him," manager Jim Tracy said. "We're waiting for him to run the bases. When he does that and he checks out (medically), we're going to get him into a game."
That won't be Saturday against the Twins, even though the designated hitter rule will be used and Sanchez wouldn't have to play the field. Beyond that, neither Sanchez nor the Pirates is guessing when he will be ready.
"I feel like I'm close, but you've got to be able to do everything," said Sanchez, who drove in 85 runs last season despite hitting only six homers.
A classic overachiever, the 29-year-old Sanchez is disappointed the injury occurred during the first spring training after he finally became an everyday player. He was a utility infielder when the 2006 season began, but hit so well in April the Pirates couldn't keep him out of the lineup and he went on to become their first batting champion since Bill Madlock in 1983.
It takes a lot to discourage an athlete who was born with a club right foot and a severely pigeon-toed left foot, making doctors question if he would walk without problems, much less run. But as the days in Florida dwindle, the one-time Boston Red Sox farmhand wishes he were playing, getting his at-bats, working on turning double plays with shortstop Jack Wilson.
"You want to be out there, and it's not something where you can work harder or lift harder or take extra swings," Sanchez said. "It has to heal on its own. That's the unfortunate part, I can't do anything except do all my rehab, do everything I can in the training room to get out there. In a way, it's out of my control, which stinks. You've got to let it heal and when it's ready, it's ready."
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