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Pirates notebook: Sanchez returns to Bucs in offensive slump

| Monday, Sept. 1, 2014, 2:21 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez drives in a run with a base hit during the seventh inning against the Orioles Wednesday, May 21, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Tony Sanchez hit .259 in 51 games over parts of three seasons for the Pirates. Once a highly touted prospect, his defense behind the plate became suspect. Sanchez, who was released Wednesday, said he is anxious to start anew with another organization.

ST. LOUIS — When Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez was sent down to the minors in late May, management told him to focus on improving his defense.

He did — but maybe a bit too much.

Sanchez batted .235 in 81 games with Triple-A Indianapolis. His worst stretch came in June, when he hit .145 with a merger .231 on-base percentage.

“I talk about putting my hitting in the back seat,” Sanchez said. “Well, I kind of put it in the trunk this time.”

Although his stats were not pristine — Sanchez threw out only 13 percent of base-stealers and made nine errors — he showed some progress behind the plate. Monday, when active rosters were permitted to expand beyond the usual 25 players, Sanchez was back in the Pirates' clubhouse.

“Defensively, it went great (at Indy),” Sanchez said. “I've never felt better behind the plate than what I feel now. Offensively, I've never felt worse. It's all mental. There's nothing wrong with my swing. It was just my approach and what I was trying to do. “

The Pirates are confident Sanchez's bat will come around. He hit .278 with a .691 OPS and two home runs in 21 games in the majors earlier this season.

A first-round pick in 2009, Sanchez was on the Opening Day roster this year because backup Chris Stewart was recovering from knee surgery. Sanchez stuck around after Stewart returned because Russell Martin went on the disabled list.

Sanchez ‘bored' at first

To get catcher Elias Diaz some playing time after he was promoted to Indy, Sanchez worked out at first base. He played two games at the new position.

“I hate it,” Sanchez said. “It's extremely boring, when you compare it to catching — where you're involved in every pitch, you're calling every pitch, you've got the umpire behind you to talk to if you get bored, you've got to know who's in the bullpen, what's the score, who's on deck. Over at first base, it's like, ‘OK, if the ball is hit to me, what do it do with it?' ''

Sanchez admitted playing first base was more difficult than he expected.

“I'm out there like a dog playing fetch, trying to go after every ball,” he said. “It's going to take more than a couple weeks of ground balls for them to even consider me an option at first base.”

Sanchez was called up primarily as an extra bat for the stretch run, but manager Clint Hurdle didn't rule out using Sanchez at first base in a pinch.

“We'll have Tony working at first and working behind the plate, and we'll see where the games take us,” Hurdle said.

Planet of the aches

Travis Snider tested his tender hamstring with running drills before Monday's game, then pinch hit in the eighth inning. It was his first game action since Wednesday.

Pedro Alvarez missed his fifth straight game due to a sprained left foot.

Right-hander Charlie Morton (sports hernia) will try to throw a 50-75 pitch simulated game Tuesday. Morton said his injury hasn't healed, but he might be able to pitch through the discomfort.

“I already know how it's going to feel (in the sim game),” Morton said. “This is so I can stay ready in case they need me.”

Roster moves

Reliever Stolmy Pimentel (sprained ankle) was activated off the disabled list. Right-hander Gerrit Cole was “called up” from rookie-level Bristol — he was optioned there in a paper move two days ago to open a roster spot for Andrew Lambo — and started Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Indianapolis ended its season Monday, so the Pirates will call up a few more minor leaguers Tuesday.

Sunday night, Indy first baseman Chris McGuiness was designated for assignment and right-handed reliever John Holdzkom was placed on the 40-man roster.

Since the move was made before Sunday's deadline, Holdzkom is eligible for the postseason roster.

The Pirates purchased Holdzhom's contract June 21 from Amarillo of the independent American Association. In 18 games with Indianapolis, he went 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. In 21 13 innings, he walked 10 and struck out 27.

Holdzhom, 26, pitched for New Zealand in the 2012 World Baseball Classic qualifiers. He was drafted in the fourth round in 2006 by the New York Mets.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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