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Catching prospect Sanchez finds comfort zone with Burnett

Christopher Horner - Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez talks with pitcher A.J. Burnett during a game against the Twins on March 9, 2013, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner</em></div>Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez talks with pitcher A.J. Burnett during a game against the Twins on March 9, 2013, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner - Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez talks to pitcher A.J. Burnett on the mound during a game against the Twins on March 9, 2013, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner</em></div>Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez talks to pitcher A.J. Burnett on the mound during a game against the Twins on March 9, 2013, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013, 7:18 p.m.
 

BRADENTON, Fla. — Tony Sanchez admits that when he saw his name on the lineup as Saturday's starting catcher and A.J. Burnett's as the starting pitcher his first thought was, “Oh, crap.”

His second thought was that he'd better get a good night's sleep Friday and bring his “A” game for his first time catching the staff ace.

“Because that's your first impression, and first impressions mean a lot, especially as far as a pitcher-catcher relationship goes,” said Sanchez, 24. “If he's not comfortable throwing to me in the beginning it's going to take a few times before he does feel comfortable. And he is one of those guys who you want in your corner.”

Sanchez accomplished his goal. Burnett had nothing but good things to say after his first collaboration with the Pirates' first-round pick from 2009. The right-hander was particularly impressed with Sanchez's ability to block pitches in the dirt and handle both his two-seamer and four-seamer.

“He's good to work with,” said Burnett, 36. “A lot of catchers can't do the four seam, two seam; they have to call each one of them, and I love catchers that don't care which one you throw; they're ready for either one. That's huge for a pitcher. And he's calm back there, so it was good.”

That calm, Sanchez said, had a lot to do with Burnett, who made a point to talk to Sanchez after batting practice and offer some words of encouragement.

“He said, ‘Call your game, catch your game. I'm following you,' ” Sanchez said. “He said, ‘I'm really intense on the mound. It's nothing against you; that's just the way I am. So you have fun back there, do what you do and let's do as well as we can.' ”

With Russell Martin nursing a sore right shoulder, Sanchez said he's probably had more playing time in his fourth big league camp than in the three prior years combined. Coach Jeff Branson and hitting coach Jay Bell have been helping him with his approach at the plate, and he's developing relationships with the pitchers he's never caught.

But as smooth as Saturday went, there was one close call.

Burnett doesn't leave the mound after his last warm-up pitch, so after he threw his fastball Sanchez threw to second with Burnett standing on the highest part of the mound facing the outfield.

“So (Sanchez) comes in the dugout and he says, ‘Good job, good job. … Can you do me a favor please?' ” Burnett said. “I was like, ‘What? It was a good inning, what do you want?' and he was like, ‘Can you get out of the way a little bit when I'm throwing?' ”

Sanchez laughed when telling his side of the story but only because Burnett escaped in one piece.

“I just let it rip, and it went about a half a foot away from his head and I'm just like, ‘Oh my God.' Pittsburgh would have just murdered me if I hit A.J. in the back of the head,” Sanchez said. “Holy moly. I would have been sent down to minor league camp so quick.”

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