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Pirates' struggling catcher Sanchez sent home from Dominican Winter League

| Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014, 2:01 p.m.

SAN DIEGO — Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez was forced to make an early exit from the Dominican Winter League. After playing in just 10 games with Toros del Este, Sanchez was told by the team to go back to the United States.

“They sent me home,” Sanchez said by phone Wednesday. “I don't blame them. The reason is, I did so poorly. I couldn't hit.”

Sanchez had three hits in 30 at-bats. He also made two throwing errors.

“I felt good, I felt strong and confident behind the plate,” Sanchez said. “The errors came on short-hop throws to second base on steals. I went there to polish my defense.”

Top prospects often go to winter ball to refine their skills and gain an edge for the upcoming season. The games are very competitive, with local bragging rights on the line, so teams sometimes aren't patient when a player scuffles.

“Tony got off to a rough start,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “Anytime you struggle for a short period of time, let alone an extended period of time, you run the risk of not being able to stay in winter ball.”

Sanchez wanted to use winter ball to work on his two-strike approach at the plate. That meant he purposely got into a lot of deep counts. That did not lead to a lot of hits, but he said it was beneficial to gain the experience.

“In hindsight, the Dominican League is the worst place to work on a two-strike approach,” Sanchez said. “Plus, I took about a month and a half off before I went down there. I kind of set myself up for failure.”

Sanchez is working out at a gym near his offseason home and will go to New York in early January to spent two weeks with a personal trainer. After that, he'll head to Bradenton, Fla., to get an early jump on spring training.

“Although it turned out different that I'd planned, I got what I wanted out of winter ball,” Sanchez said. “It was hard, but if it makes things even a little bit easier this season, then going to the Dominican League worked for me.”

The fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft, Sanchez has yet to cement a spot in the Pirates' long-term plans. Stuck behind Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, Sanchez is ticketed to open the season at Triple-A Indianapolis — and is in danger of falling behind Elias Diaz as the team's top catcher prospect.

After he was booted from the DWL, Sanchez was the target of several sarcastic Twitter posts. He said he doesn't blame the fans.

“They have a right to be upset,” Sanchez said. “I'm a former first-rounder, but it hasn't happened yet for me in the majors. I need to start getting it done. I'm working hard. I'm trying. It just hasn't happened yet.”

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

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