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Pirates notebook: Sanchez feeling like old self again

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 4:57 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez hits his first home run against the Orioles on Friday, Mar. 1, 2013, at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez rounds the bases after hitting his first home run against the Orioles on Friday, Mar. 1, 2013, at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez hits his second home run against the Orioles on Friday, Mar. 1, 2013, at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez rounds the bases after hitting his second home run against the Orioles on Friday, Mar. 1, 2013, at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher James McDonald delivers against the Orioles on Friday, Mar. 1, 2013, at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher James McDonald talks with pitching coach Ray Searage in the dugout between innings against the Orioles on Friday, Mar. 1, 2013, at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher James McDonald watches a home run by the Orioles' Wilson Betemit on Friday, Mar. 1, 2013, at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher James McDonald talks with catcher Michael McKenry after giving up a home run against the Orioles on Friday, Mar. 1, 2013, at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)

SARASOTA, Fla. — Gaby Sanchez feels like he finally has his legs under him, his bat finally going like it should.

He belted two home runs deep into the left-field bleachers in his first two at-bats of the Pirates' 6-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday at Ed Smith Stadium, and he's off to a 4-for-8 start.

His explanation is simple.

“I'm healthy,” Sanchez said. “I'm healthier than I've been in two years.”

Sanchez had right knee surgery in November 2011 and never fully recovered — especially from the conditioning standpoint — through the 2012 season. In 105 games, including 50 after the Pirates added him at the trade deadline, he batted .217 with seven home runs.

“I don't think Gaby's had a chance to get into the kind of shape he's in now for a long time,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

“All I was trying to do all year was get to the point where my knee wasn't hurting. That was it,” Sanchez said. “After the season, I was able to get back to my old routine, heavier squats, power lifting. I feel really good.”

That could be promising for the Pirates. Sanchez hit 19 home runs as a 27-year-old rookie for the Florida Marlins in 2010.

The plan entering this season is to use Sanchez in a semi-platoon at first base with Garrett Jones, but he's also been getting some work at third this spring.

Going, going, going

James McDonald gave up three home runs in as many innings — to the Orioles' Brian Roberts, Nolan Reimold and Wilson Betemit — but all concerned shrugged it off. All three were off fastballs, which McDonald had been instructed to throw to improve his command.

“James might have wanted to get a couple of those down lower, but that's a good hitting team, and they're over there knowing fastballs are coming,” Hurdle said.

“My biggest thing is zero walks,” McDonald said. “I'm working on getting the ball over.”

Morton's BP set

Charlie Morton, rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, has been scheduled to throw his first live batting practice March 10 at Pirate City.

He continued to sound optimistic about a return early in the season.

“I feel good. I feel stronger, even stronger than before,” he said.

Other recoveries

Jeff Karstens (shoulder) will throw a bullpen session Saturday. Next step would be a live batting practice.

Russell Martin (shoulder) is set to be the designated hitter Saturday against Detroit in Lakeland, Fla., after an incident-free batting practice Friday. There's no timetable for his return behind the plate.

Financial formality

Earlier in the day, the Pirates announced they signed all 26 players on their 40-man roster who have less than three years of major league experience. A team can unilaterally sign a player with that status to any amount at or above the minimum $490,000.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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