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Pirates prospect deals with 'wasted year'

BRADENTON, Fla. — Catcher Tony Sanchez just took another hit.

Although speculation was that Pittsburgh's first-round draft selection (No. 4 overall) in 2009 would miss the rest of the 2010 season after a pair of serious beanings, Sanchez didn't get the official word until Monday morning at Pirate City, where he has been rehabbing.

Surprisingly, the 22-year-old, right-handed slugger for Single-A Bradenton spoke clearly through clenched teeth. Nothing is easy when your jaw is fractured in two places and your mouth has been surgically wired shut.

"I got some bad news today," Sanchez said Monday after a limited workout. "They (Pirates medical staff) told me not to even get my hopes up about playing the rest of the year. That's tough, man.

"I was telling everybody I would be back by early August. That's what I was hoping for. I'm optimistic, but these guys are going to play it slow.

"Once I heard that, I feel like I've wasted a year. It's like all of 2010 is just down the drain."

Sanchez was pounding Florida State League pitching with a .315 batting average, four home runs and 35 RBI when he came to the plate June 21 at Bradenton's McKechnie Field in the bottom of the third inning to face St. Lucie right-hander Jeurys Familia.

"I saw the ball out of his hand," Sanchez said. "Once you see it out of the hand, you know it's going to be bad. I tried to turn my face, but there just wasn't enough time.

"He was throwing in the low to mid-nineties. So there's not much time to react anyway."

The rest of the scene was a bloody mess. Sanchez spent the night at a Tampa hospital. He had surgery three days later to repair his fractured left jaw.

Sanchez was also beaned two weeks prior to injuring his jaw. He got off relatively easy that time with a concussion.

"It feels like I have a jail cell in my mouth," Sanchez said. "If you're claustrophobic, you could not do this. You can't open your mouth. You can't lick your lips. You can't see inside your mouth."

Bradenton's cleanup hitter hasn't had any solid food since the beaning. He estimates he's still about two weeks away from "real" food and not having to drink his meals.

Despite not being able to chew food or brush his teeth, Sanchez has continued to get some work in. He's been hitting off a tee, playing soft toss, riding an exercise bike and lifting light weights.

Normally a 220-pounder, Sanchez has already lost 12 pounds and expects to lose about 12 more over the next couple of weeks.

"It's tough to breathe sometimes when you have your mouth clenched," he said. "We're going at it with a low intensity."

Sanchez had hoped for a solid successful season this summer. Then he was going to get another semester finished this fall at Boston College, where he starred on the baseball team.

Now, he expects to play in a fall instructional league to make up for lost time this summer.

"It's not something you want to go through," Sanchez said. "It's not a good feeling."

One of the great things about being a talented 22-year-old is that you have all the time and energy you need to get back on track.

"I was driving the ball into the gap and was driving in runs," Sanchez said. "I was happy with the way I was playing.

"By the time I come back, I'm going to be brand new."

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