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Pirates notebook: Prospect Sanchez makes 1st start at first base with Indy

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez watches his winning double during the seventh inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, April 6, 2014, at PNC Park.

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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, 8:39 p.m.

MILWAUKEE — Pirates prospect Tony Sanchez made his first professional start at a position other than catcher or designated hitter Friday, starting at first base for Triple-A Indianapolis.

Sanchez was regarded as a strong defensive catcher when he was drafted fourth overall out of Boston College in 2009. He was projected to be a future starting catcher for the Pirates, but Sanchez's throwing issues persist. He's thrown out only 11 percent of basestealers this season, with 55 of 62 advancing successfully against him.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sanchez has been working out for several weeks at first base to increase his versatility.

“Our intent was to add playing-time options for Tony — and additional opportunity to help a (major league) club,” Huntington wrote in a text, “and get Triple-A exposure for (catcher) Elias Diaz.”

For his minor league career, Sanchez has thrown out 22 percent of base-stealers, raising the question of his ability to stay at the position.

Sanchez has played 426 minor league games: 422 at catcher, three at designated hitter and now one at first base. Sanchez is hitting .228 with 10 home runs in 72 games for Indianapolis.

The Pirates potentially are looking at a significant void at catcher this offseason as starting catcher Russell Martin is a free agent and figures to earn a lucrative, multiyear contract. The Pirates do not have a clear starting-caliber catcher in the upper levels of their farm system.

Polanco held out again

Gregory Polanco was held out of the starting lineup for a third straight game Friday at Milwaukee.

After a torrid start to the season at Triple-A and impressive opening weeks with the Pirates, Polanco has struggled. He has one hit in his last eight games started and is batting .227 in the second half.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sees a young player whose swing has become long.

“There's been a little more movement than necessary with his hands,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes you don't know if it's fatigue or anxiety. … They are pitching him up a lot more, it's no secret. He's doing a lot more up chasing than when he first got here. We revisited the swing when he first got here. He was quick to the ball, long through it … almost made it look effortless. Sometimes with (fatigue) you try to create strength or bat speed with body or hands, and usually what that does is (decelerate) the bat.”

The red-hot Travis Snider earned a third straight start in right field.

“The good side of it is when we've had some time to settle (Polanco) down a little bit, when he had gotten back plugged in, he's been very fresh and usually shows a lot of improvement,” Hurdle said.

Cole passes another test

Gerrit Cole passed his first test in his return to the major league mound Wednesday when he delivered a quality start against the Atlanta Braves and held his velocity deep into the game — his 93rd pitch of the night hitting 98 mph.

In recovering from lat and shoulder discomfort, he also has passed his second test: recovery.

“Very good, very good physically,” Hurdle said of Cole's status Friday. “His fastball velocity was as good and solid as we've seen from him in a long time.”

Right is the new left

Right-handed hitting Gaby Sanchez started at first base against right-handed Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo on Friday over left-handed options Ike Davis and Pedro Alvarez.

Hurdle explained that Gallardo's go-to pitch has become his changeup, which is most effective against left-handed batters. Gallardo has reverse platoon splits as lefties are hitting .217 against him this season and righties are hitting .270.

Pepper games

Rehabbing pitcher Stolmy Pimentel threw one inning Thursday with Double-A Altoona and is scheduled to throw back-to-back outings Monday and Tuesday with Altoona … Alvarez continued to take infield work at third base Friday.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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