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Pirates' Sanchez healthy, ready to bounce back

| Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, 10:40 p.m.
Tribune-Review
Pirates first basemen Gaby Sanchez signs an autograph next to fellow Pirate Cliff Barmes, center, for Shalene Hixon, right, 16, of Punxsutawney, at PirateFest in the David H. Lawrence Convention Center Downtown on Saturday, December 15, 2012. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle described Gaby Sanchez as “in a good place physically.” He was discussing the health of his first baseman, but there is another meaning to that.

Sanchez, who joined the Pirates at the July trade deadline, is finally sound after dealing with knee problems and eventual surgery that affected his hitting since the middle of the 2011 season while playing for the Marlins.

Even though it meant leaving south Florida, where he spent his entire life, the 29-year-old Sanchez agreed he ended up in a better location, far removed from the distracting, circus atmosphere that contributed to the Marlins' 2012 implosion.

After dealing with incessant hype and attention focused on the club's name and venue changes, the Ozzie Guillen sideshow, an opulent, gimmicky new stadium and an off-season spending spree that went bust, Sanchez said he appreciates his new, drama-free surroundings.

“Being able to see one organization, and then another, it's great here,” he said. “It's easy to go to the ballpark every day.”

Sanchez was supposed to help staunch the type of collapse that ruined the 2011 season, but the job was too big. Platooning at first base with Garrett Jones, the right-handed hitting Sanchez hit .241 with four home runs and 13 RBI in 50 games for the Pirates.

That was somewhat better than his .202, three homers and 17 RBI in 55 games with the Marlins sandwiched around three weeks in the minors.

“It just happens,” he said. “That's the way baseball is.”

In November 2011, Sanchez had arthroscopic surgery to clean up a frayed patella tendon in his right knee. Rehab limited his workout routine “and I definitely wasn't as strong as I could be,” he said. “When I made contact with balls, even when I hit them good they weren't going like they had in years past. So this off-season, that's what I'm getting back to. Get stronger.”

Hurdle said he has observed Sanchez working out at PNC Park, “and he's strong, he's injury-free and he still has a couple of months to work.”

Sanchez made the National League All-Star team in 2011, but that was tempered by a poor second half when his knee flared up and he played in pain. Although it altered his hitting mechanics, Sanchez never removed himself from the lineup.

“I'm not the kind of person who just sits out and says, ‘I'm not gonna play' just because my knee is hurting,” Sanchez said. “I know I can at least run and do those kinds of things.”

Sanchez said his play improved with the Pirates, a 3-for-29 finish notwithstanding.

“I felt like when I came here I was hitting the ball well,” he said. “I was making hard contact, I was taking at-bats deep into the count, I got back to what I did best. In the last six or seven games I was hitting the ball extremely well and I couldn't get lucky. Everything I was hitting was a line-out somewhere.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bcohn@tribweb.com or 412-320-7810.

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