Gaby Sanchez hoping to turn it around

BRADENTON, Fla. — Clint Hurdle has used the phrase over and over again since his Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Gaby Sanchez at last season’s non-waiver trading deadline.

“He’s a special bat,” the Pirates manager says of the first baseman, who came from the Miami Marlins in a trade for outfield prospect Gorkys Hernandez on July 31.

It would be hard to tell that by the way Sanchez performed last season. Added in order to give the Pirates a boost in its efforts to win the National League Central title or one of the two wild cards, Sanchez instead became one of the reasons they had their 20th consecutive losing season.

Sanchez hit .241 with four home runs in 50 games following the trade. There was nothing special about those numbers.

However, Hurdle is convinced the Pirates made a good trade and Sanchez will help the Pirates this season.

“He’s in a good place physically now,” Hurdle said. “I don’t think he was in that good place last year.”

Sanchez underwent arthroscopic knee following the 2011 season in which he was the Marlins’ representative on the National League All-Star team and hit .266 with 19 homers. That was nearly identical to his 2010 rookie season when he had a .273 batting average and 19 homers.

“If we would have tried to trade for Gaby two years ago, we wouldn’t have any chance of getting him,” Hurdle said. “You have to buy low on a player like that. We didn’t get him when he was at his best but I think you’re going to see a different Gaby Sanchez this season.”

Sanchez, 29, feels optimistic that he can improve upon last season’s overall statistics. Between the Marlins and Pirates, he hit a combined .217 with seven home runs in 105 games.

“I was never 100 percent healthy, I never felt like I completely had my legs under me in my swing,” Sanchez said. “I got started really late on my workouts after the 2011 season because of the surgery. I didn’t show up to spring training in the best shape and I felt like I was trying to play catch up all year.”

And this spring?

“I feel great,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”

Sanchez is part of a six-man spring training competition for two starting spots — first base and right field — with Garrett Jones, who can play both positions, and outfielders Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and Jerry Sands.

The most likely scenario has the right-handed hitting Sanchez starting at first against left-handed starting pitcher, Snider playing right against right-handers while Jones shuttles between the two positions.

“We’ll see how all it all shakes out but I have no doubt that Gaby can help our club,” Hurdle said. “I was very excited when we had the opportunity to trade him and nothing has happened since then that has changed my mind about him. I’m looking forward to seeing what a healthy Gaby Sanchez can do.”

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