Gaby Sanchez

Gaby Sanchez signs with Japanese team

Non-tendered last month after the Pirates acquired Sean Rodriguez to potentially replace his right-handed bat, Gaby Sanchez has signed with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.

His move to Japan is surprising because it seemed pretty likely that Sanchez would be able to snag another part-time role in the big leagues at age 31, but the Associated Press says he’ll get $2.5 million and that’s almost surely more than any MLB team would have paid.

Sanchez is a career .254 hitter with a .744 OPS in seven seasons, including a paltry .691 OPS versus righties compared to a strong .863 OPS off lefties. He made the All-Star team in 2011.

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Pirates designate Gaby Sanchez

The Pirates have announced that they've acquired Sean Rodriguez from the Rays for a player to be named later or cash. They've also designated Gaby Sanchez for assignment.

The Rays designated Rodriguez for assignment last week. He's right-handed and can play first, second, third or the outfield and grades as a decent defender at any of those. He used to play shortstop but has done that less in recent years. He hit .211/.258/.443 last season. The batting average should come up a bit next year, but the power numbers should come down -- his 12 home runs in part-time duty last season represented a career high, although he did hit a ton of home runs years ago in the minors. He's projected to make $2 million in 2015 in his last season before free agency eligibility.

Sanchez would have gotten a raise to around $2.7 million next season, and given his poor play in 2014 and his age, he wasn't worth that. Designating him for assignment now means there's no longer any question about whether the Pirates will tender him, so this move takes most of the drama out of the non-tender deadline tomorrow night.

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Why It May Be Time for Pittsburgh Pirates to Cut Ties with Gaby Sanchez

There was a time when Gaby Sanchez was emerging as a reliable, everyday player at the major league level.  

In 2010, Sanchez broke onto the scene with a .273 batting average and 19 home runs in 151 games for the Miami Marlins, finishing fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year race.  

The following season, Sanchez played in all but three games, batting .266 with 19 homers and 78 RBI for his Marlins team.  

Then, suddenly, Sanchez was unable to get things going in 2012, and the Marlins traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates after he batted just .202 through 55 games played.

Still, both members and fans of Pittsburgh's organization were excited and eager to see if he could return to being the player he was over the two seasons prior.

For Sanchez and the Pirates, however, that wish never came to be true.  

In 50 games with the Pirates that season, Sanchez batted .241 with just four homers. Overall that season, he saw his home run total drop off by 12 compared to the season prior.  

Furthermore, Sanchez had just 299 at-bats in 2012, a major drop-off from his 572 at-bats in both 2010 and 2011.  

The major flaw in Sanchez's game is his inability to hit right-handed pitchers. Sanchez, who bats from the right side, has owned a career .238 batting average against right-handers.

Compare that to his .291 average against southpaws, and you can understand why he has not been given a full season's worth of at-bats.

To be fair to Sanchez, he has greater than twice as many at-bats in his career against right-handed pitchers. Still, his 609 at-bats against lefties is enough to show that he is a much better hitter against lefties.

After finishing this season with just 262 at-bats, it marked the third straight season that Sanchez has been unable to amass at least 300 in a single season.  
So, now that he will be arbitration-eligible this offseason and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, why don't the Pirates look to take some offers on the 31-year-old?

Other than providing as a backup first baseman who can come on to hit lefties, Sanchez really doesn't have much value to the production of the Pirates offense.  

With Josh Harrison emerging as a star in Pittsburgh after his incredible 2014 campaign in which he hit .315 in 520 at-bats and eventually became the starting third baseman, the Pirates could look to give Pedro Alvarez a lot more playing time at first base rather than third.  

lthough he was hurt for a large portion of the 2014 season, Alvarez is still one of the most important contributing factors in the Pirates lineup.

However, his fielding at third base has been below average, which is why the Pirates may elect to keep Harrison at third on a more consistent basis while giving Alvarez more starts at first base.  

Then there is Ike Davis, who is strictly a first baseman. The Pirates are hoping that Davis will return to his 2012 form when he hit 32 home runs for the New York Mets.  

The only reason that platooning Davis and Sanchez at first base worked out for the Pirates in 2014 was because of the fact that while Sanchez is better at hitting left-handers, Davis (who bats from the left side) is much better at hitting right-handers.  

Still, if the Pirates are serious about getting Davis back into form, he will need to play in the majority of games in the regular season, as he has been known to get off to a slow start in April.  

The fourth first baseman listed on the Pirates depth chart is the young Andrew Lambo, who has shown glimpses of fulfilling his great potential.  

Lambo was listed as the best power-hitting prospect in Pittsburgh's farm system by Baseball America entering the 2014 regular season.  

In just 39 at-bats for the Pirates in 2014, Lambo batted .256 with four doubles and one RBI. In 61 games with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians this season, though, he batted .328 with 11 home runs and 42 RBI. 

Lambo can play the corner outfield positions as well, but he is primarily a first baseman, and if he is going to become a difference-maker in Pittsburgh next season, he, too, will need many more at-bats.  

Heading into next season, it would make the most sense to start Harrison at third base while putting Alvarez at first. When Alvarez needs a day to rest, the Pirates could use either Davis or Lambo.  

So, where does that put a guy like Gaby Sanchez?  For a guy whose numbers have remained down for the past three seasons now, the designated hitter role would likely suit Sanchez best. 

With that being said, could the Pirates attempt to make a deal with an American League team that could use some extra pop in its lineup in exchange for some pitching, which the Pirates could always use?

That's a possibility, and it's certainly something the Pirates should consider before letting Sanchez walk in 2016 without getting anything in return.  

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Gaby Sanchez has two doubles, scores twice in win

Gaby Sanchez went 3-for-5 with two doubles, an RBI and two runs scored in Sunday's win over the Cubs.

Getting the start against left-hander Travis Wood, Sanchez made the decision pay off. He hit an RBI single in the fourth inning while adding two doubles in the game. Despite the good game, Sanchez has struggled this season, batting .237/.302/.399.

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Gaby Sanchez helps Pirates walk off with a sac fly

Gaby Sanchez hit a walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Pirates defeated the Braves 3-2 on Wednesday.

Jordy Mercer was on third base with one out following a fielding error by Justin Upton. Sanchez then lifted a fly ball to deep center field, allowing Mercer to score the winning run uncontested. Sanchez finished 1-for-2 with a walk and the RBI on the night. In 233 plate appearances this season, Sanchez is slashing .233/.300/.400 with six home runs and 27 RBI.

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Gaby Sanchez denies PED use but won't comment on reported positive test in college

Information continues to drip out of the Biogenesis scandal and, Thursday afternoon, Gaby Sanchez of the Pittsburgh Pirates was answering questions about a reported link to Tony Bosch and performance-enhancing drugs.

A book except published in the Miami New Times says that Bosch's records show Sanchez in 2011 met  several times with Bosch, reputed to be a PED supplier to Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and other major leaguers. The excerpt also says Sanchez, a teammate of Braun's in college at the University of Miami, failed a drug test there in 2004.

Sanchez's name has come up before during the Biogenesis story, and Major League Baseball was aware of his failed test, but — as authors Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts point out — there apparently hasn't been enough information to punish Sanchez. So it seems unlikely that anything like a suspension would come from these revelations.

Further, the timeline Elfrink and Garcia-Roberts lay out might be off:

Bosch's records suggest he set up several meetings with the Marlins first baseman. By 2011, when it appears the first meeting occurred, Sanchez was struggling desperately and would be shipped back to the minors. One of Bosch's notations next to Sanchez's name is simple: "$$." Sanchez was never suspended over his ties to Biogenesis, and baseball sources say they were unable to conclusively determine whether he was a Bosch client.

Sanchez made the All-Star team in 2011, and though he did slump in the second half, it's unlikely he'd be worried — much less "desperate"  — about being demoted. However, his slump continued in 2012 and Sanchez was demoted to Class AAA that season. So maybe Bosch's records, which have been described as notoriously sloppy, are just hard to read.

This season, Sanchez is batting .241 with a .301 on-base percentage and a .440 slugging percentage with five home runs in 153 plate appearances as a platoon player for the Pirates. Given the pitcher-friendly dimensions of PNC Park, those numbers aren't that bad. In fact, his slugging percentage would be his personal best since his rookie season.

No matter, it's a little unfair that Sanchez has to respond to questions about drug tests in college 10 years ago, and all of Bosch's records are shady — but that hasn't stopped MLB from securing punishments for other players linked to Bosch. Braun got 65 games in 2013 and A-Rod is benched through this season.

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Gaby Sanchez helps Pirates rally for win over Mets

NEW YORK — Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had good reason to call upon Gaby Sanchez to bat for Ike Davis.

Sanchez tagged the Mets again, delivering a pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning and a tiebreaking single in the ninth that rallied Pittsburgh over New York 5-3 on Monday.

Sanchez has a .324 average with nine homers and 34 RBIs vs. New York, matching or topping his bests against any NL team. He lost playing time after Davis was acquired in a trade with the Mets in mid-April.

"Ike's a good player and he's been swinging the bat really well. He's been one of the hottest bats on the team. So, he's going to play and I understand that," Sanchez said about Davis, who was making his return to Citi Field. "My role is to keep that going whenever I get my chance, keep that going and help the team win."

The Mets announced after their ninth loss in 12 games that they had fired hitting coach Dave Hudgens. New York also cut reliever Jose Valverde soon after he gave up Sanchez's go-ahead hit.

Valverde (1-1) was booed off the field after allowing pinch-hitter Jose Tabata's tying single in the eighth. Valverde returned for the ninth and was even worse, yielding four runs overall.

"Don't think for one second that there's not a guy in there that realizes that this is part of it. We just released one of the best professionals I ever been around in Jose Valverde," a fired-up Collins said. "You deal with it, and if you can't you don't belong in the game."

Mets minor league hitting coordinator Lamar Johnson will take Hudgens' place. Right-hander Vic Black is being recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas to fill Valverde's spot.

With one out in the ninth, Valverde gave up a single to Neil Walker and walked Andrew McCutchen.

Sanchez fouled off a fastball, losing hold of the bat, which spun toward the Pirates dugout and hit a batboy in the legs. The batboy smiled and on-deck hitter Russell Martin checked to see if he was OK.

Sanchez then singled to left, scoring Walker. Juan Centeno couldn't handle Curtis Granderson's throw that bounced to the right of the plate and skittered past Valverde, who was backing up but way too close to the catcher. McCutchen scored on Granderson's error for a two-run lead.

Martin added an RBI double for Pittsburgh, which rebounded from a loss to Washington on Sunday after a season-high four straight wins.

"This mentality in the dugout is, 'This is the inning.' Even if we get pushed down, the next inning we'll make something," Hurdle said. "You've got to be relentless. You can't get sad."

Tony Watson (5-0) pitched an inning for the win.

Mark Melancon got his 10th save.

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Gaby Sanchez sees time in outfield

Pittsburgh Pirates 1B Gaby Sanchez and SS Jordy Mercer both saw action in the outfield for the first time in their major league careers Saturday, May 10, against the St. Louis Cardinals. Both players spent time in right field but neither Sanchez nor Mercer had a ball hit to them. The Pirates were shorthanded on outfielders during the game due to injuries to OFs Starling Marte (back) and Andrew McCutchen (foot).

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Gaby Sanchez makes most of starts at first base

CINCINNATI -- Gaby Sanchez's two home runs Monday night proved crucial in what ended up as a win after rain suspended the game. For him, they also were important because they came against right-handed pitchers.

"We don't face too many lefties or anything like that," Sanchez said. "Being able to come in and help the team out any which way is definitely a positive. That's what I'm here for."

Through their first 13 games, the Pirates have faced one left-handed starting pitcher, the Chicago Cubs' Travis Wood. As a result, the left-handed Travis Ishikawa started 10 of those games at first base, leaving the right-handed Sanchez with only three.

Manager Clint Hurdle said in spring training that he would not use a strict platoon between Ishikawa and Sanchez. The slew of right-handers out of the gates, combined with the fact the Pirates are scheduled to face five right-handers the rest of the week, means Hurdle must start Sanchez against right-handers if he wants to start him at all.

"It's not all hard numbers," Hurdle said of how he decides when to start Sanchez. "We're kind of old-school here. We'll look at what our eyes tell us and what our gut tells us and sometime the numbers scream at you. Sometimes, you can look at a batting average and it can read .200 and if you dig deeper it's four hard-hit balls and he only got two hits in 10 at-bats."

In 18 plate appearances through eight games, Sanchez had an .333 on-base percentage and .688 slugging percentage. In the weekend series in Milwaukee, Hurdle said, Sanchez worked on nothing but hitting the ball the opposite way.

"[Monday] felt good," Sanchez said. "Things that I'm putting in play in the cage and on the field during [batting practice] paid off. The thing is just to continue it, continue that feeling, continue getting the pitch that I need."

Sanchez's two home runs represented a third of the Pirates' long-ball output Monday night. The teams combined for 10 home runs in six innings before rain stopped the game.

"Definitely crazy," Sanchez said. "I'd never been in a game where that many home runs are hit by both teams, let alone one. It's one of those things that happens. Both teams were swinging the bat well."

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Gaby Sanchez to see bulk of time at 1B

While Travis Ishikawa is expected to make the Pirates' Opening Day roster, Gaby Sanchez will still see the bulk of the playing time at first base.
As a left-handed swinger, Ishikawa would theoretically serve as the long side of a platoon, but it won't be your classic platoon situation. Sanchez will be in the lineup most days after batting .290/.371/.419 this spring. The 30-year-old has hit just .234/.319/.369 over the last two seasons and shouldn't be counted on outside of NL-only leagues.

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Team is set at first base with Gaby Sanchez, Ishikawa

BRADENTON, Fla. — Gaby Sanchez wrapped up his Grapefruit League season Thursday, still standing at first base for the Pirates.

The club sought an upgrade at the position this winter, never pulled the trigger on a deal, and repeatedly stated a comfort level with Sanchez. Come Monday, they’ll stand by that.

“There’s not more drive just because I might play a little bit more,” said Sanchez. “When my name gets called and I’m in there, I’m going to give it my best go out there and try to produce and help the team win. I don’t think that because you’re starting every day you’re going to have a different drive than a guy sitting on the bench waiting for his name to get called.”

The Pirates plan to retain Travis Ishikawa to play first base, too, but still need to add him to the 40-man roster and ultimately the 25-man roster.

The position won’t be a classic platoon, with Sanchez expected to see more at-bats.

“We got a first basemen in place with Ishikawa and Sanchez. We’ll start that way. They won’t be a complementary platoon by definition,” said manager Clint Hurdle.

Sanchez hit .310 this spring until going 0 for 2 Thursday against Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, which dropped his average to .290.

What Sanchez does think — and what the Pirates hope — is that more regular playing time will get his splits closer.

Sanchez has a reputation for “crushing lefties” but hit just .204 against right-handed pitching in 2013 in 194 plate appearances, and .207 in 215 plate appearances in 2012.

“I definitely think that the more you play, like any one of us, the more comfortable you’re going to feel. The more in tune and rhythm you’re going to be,” said Sanchez. “So absolutely. This spring, I’ve been hitting against both lefties and righties feeling good, feeling fine at the plate.”

His timing at bat, Sanchez believes, can be improve by fewer days off, too.

“Fielding-wise it was different because I was in there a lot fielding,” said Sanchez. “But the hitting part, the timing of the pitching, velocity of the ball coming at you is a little different. When you’re playing everyday, a guy who’s throwing 93-94 might not seem as hard as it might to a guy who hasn’t played for three days.”

But spring is over, and he’s ready to go.

“Right now, I’m feeling good,” said Sanchez. “Worked on some small little adjustments and things like that but for the most part feeling comfortable at the plate.”

Good news on Liriano

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Francisco Liriano (groin tightness) felt good Thursday after pitching his simulated game Wednesday and is on track to start the opener. Then, he added: “He feels very good.”

Later in the afternoon Hurdle said Liriano officially is good to go Monday.

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Gaby Sanchez ready to prove he's all right at first base for Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. — What if the answer to the Pirates' most pressing question this spring — who's on first? — was there all along?

All of the offseason focus centered around how the Pirates might upgrade first base. The club parted with Justin Morneau and Garrett Jones. The Pirates were not willing to go to a third year with free-agent first baseman James Loney and have not yet been willing to meet the demands for potential trade targets like Ike Davis, Justin Smoak, Mike Carp and Mitch Moreland.

So much attention has been centered around left-handed first basemen because of Gaby Sanchez's platoon splits. Sanchez has crushed left-handed pitching the past two seasons — .987 OPS in 2013 vs. lefties — but his bat has played like that of a utility infielder against right-handed pitching (.619 OPS in 2013 vs. right-handers).

Sanchez and the Pirates believe he can be much more competitive against right-handed pitching if he faces right-handers on a consistent basis. They believe he can be an everyday player, particularly if Andrew Lambo's struggles in March carry over into April.

“I know that I can do it. I have done it before. I have hit right-handers,” Sanchez said. “It's just something going out there and getting the reps.”

There might be something to Sanchez's hypothesis on why he has struggled against right-handed pitching the past two seasons.

While receiving regular playing time with the Marlins in 2010 and 2011, Sanchez produced back-to-back seasons of identical OPS numbers against right-handed pitching (.742). Sanchez said being a platoon player negatively impacts your ability against same-arm pitchers, and his number against right-handers have declined while being platooned the past two seasons.

“I don't think players lose skills (in a platoon), but you still have to train your body, you still have to train your swing,” Sanchez. “It's tough when you're in a platoon role and all you're doing is facing lefties, and then in that eighth and ninth inning … you are facing your one righty every third day. It's not an easy thing against a guy who is throwing 97 mph in the eighth and ninth inning.

“You're not seeing the arm angle. You're not seeing the arm action on a daily basis. It's tough.”

To try to prepare for the elite velocity he might see late in games last season, Sanchez began using the batting cages in the middle of games and cranked up the velocity. And Sanchez actually was better against right-handed relievers last season than he was against right-handed starters.

Sanchez made only 30 starts against right-handed pitching last season in which he received multiple plate appearances. In those 81 plate appearances, he hit .178 with a .259 on-base percentage.

Why does Pirates manager Clint Hurdle have confidence Sanchez can improve against right-handed pitching?

“The track record. … His first two years in the major leagues his numbers were competitive,” Hurdle said. “You get out of a role, or you fall out of role … there's no regularity. It's a challenge. We feel, with consistent work, the numbers would be closer together, (and) there wouldn't be the separation we saw the last two seasons.”

The Pirates' front office also believes Sanchez can improve against right-handed pitching.

“Gaby is in that competition to become the regular first baseman and to get the majority of at bats there,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “If we find a left-handed complement for him that we feel makes (first base) better, then we go in that direction. We are still working through that process. It may be something that evolves once we get into the season. We have a comfort that Gaby can do a nice job against right-handed pitching.”

And he just might get that chance.

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Pirates hope Gaby Sanchez is answer at 1B

BRADENTON, Fla. — The longer the Pittsburgh Pirates go without finding a new first baseman, the closer Gaby Sanchez gets to claiming the job.

Sanchez, though, does not want to get the spot by default. He’d prefer to earn it.

General manager Neal Huntington tried in December to lure free agent James Loney, but he wound up re-signing with the Tampa Bay Rays. Kendrys Morales is still available, but the Pirates will sign him only at a bargain rate. Ike Davis, Mitch Moreland, Justin Smoak and Adam Lind have been mentioned as trade possibilities, but so far nothing has materialized.

“We’ve not made a move because we’ve got some comfort with Gaby and our internal options,” Huntington said. “But we are always looking for ways to improve our team.”

The Pirates opened spring training camp with three candidates to be their opening day first baseman: Sanchez, Andrew Lambo and Chris McGuiness.

Lambo hit 32 home runs last season in the minors, but has made just 41 career starts at first base. He’s getting a crash course in the position this spring.

“Andrew does a couple things like an outfielder in the infield,” infield coach Nick Leyva said. “We’ve got to break those bad habits.”

McGuiness was acquired at the end of December in a small trade with the Texas Rangers. He has extensive experience at first base, but also is with his fourth organization in a six-year span. McGuiness has appeared in only 10 major league games.

That leaves Sanchez.

Three years ago, Sanchez hit 19 home runs and was an All-Star with the Miami Marlins. But he fell out of favor when his production lagged. Sanchez spent part of 2012 at Triple-A before being traded to the Pirates.

Last year, the 30-year-old Sanchez platooned with Garrett Jones. In 136 games, Sanchez batted .233 with seven homers and 36 RBIs. Among first basemen with at least 200 plate appearances, Sanchez ranked ninth with a .778 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Huntington believes Sanchez has more talent than his stats have shown so far. So does Sanchez.

“I’ve always felt I could take first base and be perfect there,” Sanchez said. “It’s out of my hands. All I can do is work hard, train hard and show, ‘Hey, I am here. I definitely can help the team.’ If we get somebody else, I’ll help out however I can.”

After the Pirates were eliminated in the NL Division Series, Sanchez took off 10 days and relaxed with his family in Miami. On day 11, he began intense, daily workouts with a personal trainer.

“It was just me and one other guy for a good month before other guys started trickling in,” Sanchez said. “It was good. I wanted to get after it, get started.”

Last year’s media guide listed Sanchez’s weight as 230 pounds, but he looked and moved like he was at least 10 pounds heavier. This spring, Sanchez checked into camp at 235 pounds after losing a lot of flab and gaining muscle.

Sanchez’s trimmer body is the product of a stepped-up conditioning program. Many of the exercises were targeted for baseball-related skills — short sprints, ladder drills and workouts in a sand pit.

“It was designed to give me more explosive first steps,” Sanchez said. “That plays a big part at first base. I’m not a typical first baseman who plays closer to the line; I play off the line as much as I possibly can. I need to be quick enough to get back to the base. Maybe now I can get another step off than I could last year. Maybe I can take away one or two hits each week.”

Sanchez will make $2.3 million this season and has one year of arbitration eligibility left. This could be his final chance to show the Pirates he deserves a bigger, longer contract.

“Guys get to the point where they recognize there’s a big opportunity for them,” Huntington said. “Gaby’s got the first opportunity in camp to become a regular first baseman again.”

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Gaby Sanchez ready to make first-base job his own

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Gaby Sanchez is surrounded by people who want a piece of him.

To his immediate left in the Pirate City clubhouse is Travis Ishikawa. In the next row of lockers sits Chris McGuiness. Across the hall, in the "prospects locker room," is Andrew Lambo.

They are left-handed hitters who all want a piece of Sanchez. Or, at least, a piece of his action -- a big piece, against pitchers who throw right handed, as do most, which would severely curtail the playing time of Sanchez in a first-base platoon.

Sanchez says they are welcome to try. No, really welcome, because "it's not really competition because, in the end, we're all in it for the same thing -- to win."
That said, Sanchez suggests they could be wasting their time. As could Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington if he continues to track the trade and free-agent markets for a possibly higher-profile lefty hitter to pair with Sanchez.

"I know I can be an everyday guy. There is no doubt in my mind. I know I can do it," Sanchez said, trying to soothe a fan base that considers the first-base situation -- further emaciated by the departure of Garrett Jones -- the biggest emergency facing the 2014 Bucs. "I know I can go out there and produce and help the team win. I truly believe that. I'm definitely good enough to keep going out there as the everyday guy."

Pretty emphatic for a guy who, in a season and a half with the Pirates has hit about .200 versus right-handed pitchers. However, Sanchez argues, those at-bats came sporadically, usually on days he was already in the starting lineup against southpaws (against whom he hit .333 last season).

"When you're in there every day and get four at-bats, all the reps, that really helps," Sanchez said. "I feel like if I get the opportunity to go out there and play every day, I'll show what I can do."

Go ahead and argue otherwise, Sanchez and Monica Swasey dare you.

Er, Monica?

"Her husband is the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Miami," explained Sanchez, a native and resident of Miami. "Monica does her own training. A couple of other big leaguers work with her, and they told me to come by and give her a try."

Sanchez wasn't too sure. He had trained once before with Mrs. Swasey, but all he'd lost that time was pep. However, manager Clint Hurdle did send Sanchez off into the offseason asking him to get in better shape, so the first baseman hooked back up with Swasey. This time, he lost pounds and fat -- a lot of both.

"She was a lot more into conditioning before -- a lot of running and stuff -- and I felt like I was getting tired during the season," Sanchez recalled. "But I was told she had changed, was more baseball-specific, not as crazy with the whole conditioning thing. And she was phenomenal. Four times a week ... she helped out a lot, with everything you would need in baseball to be better, to prevent injuries, all those things."

Sanchez was one of the first position players to arrive in camp. The running gag for days was, "When is the rest of Gaby getting in?"

"He's shown up in a very good place," Hurdle acknowledged. "He got it done, he went to work. He got everything out of the winter that he could. He's a smart guy; he understood what he needed to do, the opportunity that is in front of him. He's done everything to put himself in the best situation to compete physically since he's been here."

Since "he's been here," Sanchez has platooned. Through no fault of his own: When Sanchez joined the Pirates at the 2012 Trade Deadline, Jones was entrenched as the lefty-hitting first baseman and was in the midst of a productive season. Jones wound up second on that team with 86 RBIs and third with 27 home runs. Sanchez fell into the platoon role.

"They already had someone in place," Sanchez said, "and, together, we made a pretty good duo, and the team was doing well."

It was a new role for Sanchez, who, in the previous two seasons, had played 310 games with the Marlins. That made him their everyday first baseman. Although always a stronger hitter against left-handers -- who doesn't put up better numbers against opposite-side throwers? -- he held his own against righties in those two seasons, hitting .256 against them, with 27 of his 38 home runs.

"Then I had two bad months (the first two months of the 2012 season with Miami), and all of a sudden I was a platoon guy when I got here," Sanchez said.

The Pirates brass' confidence in Sanchez's ability to again roll out a total game is evidenced by the fact that, despite winters-long reports that linked the Bucs with just about every available first baseman, Huntington has not yet pulled the trigger.

"We feel good about this club. We've got some guys who are deserving of opportunities," said Huntington, who included Sanchez in that group. "If they can't capitalize on that, then we begin looking elsewhere."

While it is true a club such as Pittsburgh can't lightly consign a $2.3 million-player to part-time status, also true is the perception the inactivity is a vote of confidence in Sanchez.

"I think so. We've spoken about it a bit, and they said that if they found somebody who'd help the team, they would pursue that," Sanchez said. "I'm OK with whatever my role will be. I hope that will be an everyday role -- but whatever they want from me, that's what they'll get, that's what I'll do."

Still, no promises. It is way too early for that.

"He's an honest self-evaluator," Hurdle said of Sanchez. "We continue to communicate, so he's clear on what we think. Where he takes it from there, it's up to him. Is our best first base situation a platoon or one guy? We'll see."

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Gaby Sanchez prepared to forgo Pirates' 1B platoon

BRADENTON, Fla. — Gaby Sanchez is like everyone else who isn’t privy to the general manager’s text messages and emails.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” the first baseman said Tuesday before the Pirates held their first full-squad workout of spring training at Pirate City.

Pirates GM Neal Huntington spent the entire off-season trying to acquire a left-handed hitting first baseman to platoon with the right-handed hitting Sanchez but came away empty.

There has been talk that the Pirates have at least some interest in switch-hitting Kendrys Morales, who is a free agent. But the Pirates would have to give up their first-round pick – 25th overall – in this year’s amateur draft to the Mariners as compensation for signing Morales.

The Pirates are also going to look at left-handed hitting rookie Andrew Lambo at first base when Grapefruit League games begin next week. He hit a combined 32 home runs between Class AA Altoona and Class AAA Indianapolis last season.

But Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle said repeatedly over the winter that they would feel comfortable with Sanchez as their everyday first baseman.

Sanchez, who lost 20 pounds by following a more difficult off-season workout regimen, believes he is up to the task after platooning last season with Garrett Jones, who became a free agent and signed with the Marlins during the off-season after the Pirates failed to tender him a contract.

“Of course, I want to be an everyday player, who wouldn’t?” Sanchez said with a smile. “I’ve done it before in my career, and I feel like I can do it if that’s what this team needs. I feel like I’m in great shape and prepared to play on a regular basis.”

The biggest question surrounding Sanchez is whether he can hit right-handed pitching on a consistent basis. Over his six-year career, he has a .895 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) against left-handers but a .700 mark versus righties.

“I really believe if I get the chance to play regularly against right-handed pitchers that I would have success against them,” Sanchez said. “It’s like anything else, the more you do something, the better you are going to get at it. I know I can hit righties. It’s not like I’ve never got a hit off of one.

“Hopefully, I’ll get that opportunity and I’ll take advantage of it. We’ll see what happens.”

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Gaby Sanchez recognizes opportunity

BRADENTON, Fla. — When the Pirates were ousted from the playoffs, Gaby Sanchez gave himself 10 days to kick back and enjoy the offseason. Before the World Series had run its course, Sanchez was back in the weight room.

“It was just me and one other guy working out for a good month before other guys started trickling in,” Sanchez said. “It was good. I wanted to get after it, get started.”

The results were noticeable Thursday, when the Pirates opened their spring training camp. Sanchez has packed on muscle, sweated off flab and is 20 pounds lighter than he was a year ago.

“Guys get to the point where they recognize there's a big opportunity for them,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “Gaby's got the opportunity to become a regular first baseman again.”

All winter, Huntington tried unsuccessfully to land a first baseman via free agency or a trade. He expects to keep searching during spring training and maybe get a bargain as players are forced off other teams' crowded rosters.

Sanchez spent the offseason drilling with a personal trainer, a woman he first worked with years ago. Back then, her workouts were too intense, and Sanchez quickly drifted away from her.

“She was a lot crazier back then, and it was more of a football-conditioning type thing,” Sanchez said with a laugh. “Since then, guys have talked to her and brought her into the baseball mentality.”

Sanchez is more focused on conditioning and exercises that help give him an explosive first step on the field. Unlike many first basemen, Sanchez prefers to play far off the line. With better quick-twitch speed, he hopes to steal an extra hit or two from batters every week.

Even as Huntington keeps looking for a first baseman, Sanchez's message is simple: Don't worry. I've got this.

“I've always felt that way,” Sanchez said. “I've always felt I could take first base and be perfect there. What (management) does is out of my hands. All I can do is work hard, train hard and show, ‘Hey, I am here. I definitely can help the team.' ”

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Gaby Sanchez Won't Be Full-Time 1B For Pirates

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Joe Starkey speculates Pittsburgh Pirates 1B Gaby Sanchez will not open the season as a full-time first baseman, given his inability to hit right-handed pitching.

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Gaby Sanchez continues mashing lefties

Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez continues to thrive as the right-handed half of the club's first base platoon. He went 2 for 3 with his second home run Tuesday against left-hander Cole Hamels and Philadelphia.

Sanchez is hitting a robust 6 for 17 with two doubles and two home runs (1.274 OPS) against lefties, but righties have held him to just 2 for 14 without an extra-base hit (.421 OPS). As such, expect him to continue splitting time with Garrett Jones in a platoon at first base even if Sanchez's overall .885 seems to demand more at-bats.

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Gaby Sanchez goes deep again

Gaby Sanchez launched a solo homer and had three RBI in Thursday's victory over the Phillies.

Sanchez tied things up in the sixth with a solo shot off of Cliff Lee, and he got to Lee again the next inning with an RBI single. The first baseman took Lee and Cole Hamels deep in the series win, and he now has a longball in each of his last three starts. He could continue to be a solid NL-only play.

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Gaby Sanchez's seventh-inning homer lifts Bucs

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Gaby Sanchez hit his team-leading fourth Grapefruit League home run as the Pirates rallied for a 4-3 win over the Red Sox at McKechnie Field on Monday afternoon.

Trailing, 2-1, in the seventh, Pittsburgh got a leadoff walk from Josh Harrison and then Sanchez crushed a Chris Carpenter offering over the left-field fence.

For his second straight start, James McDonald endured a shaky first inning and then settled into dominance. On Wednesday, he allowed three runs in the first to Toronto and then retired 14 of the last 17 batters he faced. In Monday's game, he gave up two runs on three first-inning hits and then held the Red Sox to one other hit over his final 4 1/3 frames.

The right-hander also notched six strikeouts and issued three free passes.

One day after Jon Lester hurled six perfect innings, Boston starter Clay Buchholz pitched one-hit ball for five innings on Monday. Buchholz gave up his first run of the spring, but he was extremely sharp for a fourth consecutive start, limiting the Pirates to a second-inning homer by Neil Walker. In 13 1/3 innings, the righty has allowed seven hits and a run.

For Walker, who was hampered by injuries the last six weeks of the 2012 season, the homer was his first since Aug. 12.

Ryan Lavarnway's two-run single off McDonald in the first gave Boston a quick 2-0 lead.

Jason Grilli, the Pirates' new closer who had been away participating in the World Baseball Classic with Italy, made his first Grapefruit League appearance since March 3. Grilli came on in the sixth and retired the side in order.

Michael McKenry tacked on an insurance run in the eighth when he hit a leadoff homer off Oscar Villarreal.

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Gaby Sanchez Backing Up 3rd Base Could Pay Dividends For PIrates

At the trade deadline last season, the Pirates added first baseman Gaby Sanchez and subtracted Casey McGehee. In doing so, they lost a player who had the ability to play both corner infield positions, thus relying on Josh Harrison to back up Pedro Alvarez at third.

However, Sanchez has come into camp this spring and shown an intriguing aspect of his game: the ability to play third base.

Sanchez, 29, has not played in a single inning at 3B in over 400 career MLB innings. He did play the hot corner in 148 minor league games, committing 37 errors in 395 defensive chance. The last time he appeared at third was in 2009 with the New Orleans Zephyrs.

He’s been logging some time there thus far in Grapefruit League play, in addition to ripping the cover off the ball. While it’s only spring training, it is great to see Sanchez regaining his strength; it sounds like he is fully healthy and ready to contribute in a big way. It would be huge for the Pirates if Gaby can play decent defense at third, as it would give them a few options to work with.

Sanchez would not only be able to rest Garrett Jones at first, but Alvarez at third as well. The Bucs need to replace Pedro’s power on his days off, and Gaby potentially has the ability to do so. He possesses a better bat than Harrison, which definitely gives him the edge. It would especially help when the Pirates face a left-handed pitcher, as both Sanchez’s and Alvarez’s career splits indicate. Only nine of Pedro’s 50 career home runs have come against southpaws, and his batting average has been much lower against them as well. On the other hand, the right-handed hitting Sanchez has put up a solid .291/.385/.484 line vs. LHP.

The ability to play third base makes Sanchez a much more valuable player. He’s very restricted as a first basemen only, especially since Garrett Jones should see the bulk of playing time there. At third, however, he can rest Pedro Alvarez for scheduled off days, against tough lefties, and sometimes when Pedro is in a slump. Alvarez is still a very streaky hitter who will see his share of slumps, but it’s important to keep that power in the lineup. Sanchez provides that strong bat, so he has the potential to be a formidable backup when called upon. Hopefully he can provide decent defense at 3B and give the Pirates that extra option.

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Gaby Sanchez homers among 3 hits, leads Pirates to 10-0 win over Spain

BRADENTON, Fla. — Gaby Sanchez went 3 for 3 with a double, home run and two RBIs on Tuesday, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 10-0 rout of Spain’s World Baseball Classic team.

Rhiner Cruz, a Houston Astros reliever and one of just two players with major league experience on the Spanish roster, allowed three runs in one inning.

The right-handed hitting Sanchez will likely platoon at first base with Garrett Jones this season but played third base against Spain.

Gerrit Cole, the first overall selection in the 2011 draft, started and struck out six in three innings as he combined with four relievers on a five-hitter. He allowed two hits and one walk.

Darren Ford and Anderson Hernandez had two hits each for Pittsburgh.

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Gaby Sanchez turning on power with strong start for Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When the 2012 season ended, Gaby Sanchez gave himself only one week off. Then, he went to work.

If sweating hard and lifting weights is a luxury, it is one he couldn't afford the previous offseason as he had arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a damaged patella tendon.

"Last year I couldn't lift my legs," he said. "I couldn't really do anything power-wise because I had the knee surgery, so I really didn't start working out. And when I did, it wasn't heavyweight. It was lightweight, just trying to get the leg not hurting again."

Sanchez's power numbers dived last season, when his combined OPS (on-base plus slugging) between stops in Miami and Pittsburgh was .620 -- the lowest of his career.

"I wasn't strong anywhere on my lower half," he said. "That's where I hit from -- I hit from my lower half. When that's not feeling right, nothing seems to go into place."

The Pirates acquired Sanchez at the trade deadline from the Miami Marlins. At the time, Sanchez was hitting .202. After joining the Pirates, his fortunes hadn't changed much.

He started his tenure in Pittsburgh going 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position before finally converting Sept. 2 -- more than a month after the trade.

"He played from behind last year," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had a late-November surgery on a knee, played catch-up for most of the year. I don't think he got in real good baseball shape until about a month in with us."

Now, it appears Sanchez has his sea legs under him.

Sanchez has had one of the strongest starts of any Pirate in spring training. He is hitting .417 and crushed two home runs in a Grapefruit League game over the weekend, two no-doubters that reminded Hurdle of the success Sanchez had in Miami -- where he was fourth in rookie of the year voting in 2010 and an All-Star in 2011.

Sanchez will platoon at first base with Garrett Jones, but he also has spent time this spring workout out at third base. But if Sanchez plays well enough, he will play on a consistent basis; Hurdle has been creative in the past to find ways to keep a hot bat on the field.

He credits his offseason conditioning plan that aggressively targeted his legs -- a source of power for any baseball player -- for fueling his hot start. He spent nearly two months lifting weights before picking up a bat for the first time this offseason.

"Sometimes you have to just forget about everything and basically reboot," Sanchez said.

Sanchez and Jay Bell, hired as Pirates hitting coach this offseason, connected in December around the same time Sanchez was in Pittsburgh for the Pirates Caravan. Bell stressed Sanchez's mentality -- an approach he took with most players when he first met them.

"The guys that end up having a degree of success are the guys that understand how to beat that guy on the mound mentally," Bell said.

Sanchez said he and Bell have a good working relationship because they embrace the same approach at the plate -- look for a fastball and drive it toward right-center field.

He also worked this offseason with University of Miami assistant baseball coach Lou Palmisano.

But even though Sanchez took a few months before he picked up a bat for the first time this offseason, he said he felt comfortable swinging all season long.

So far this spring, he has made opposing pitchers equally uncomfortable.

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Gaby Sanchez's two homers not enough for Bucs

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles continued their hot spring start Friday afternoon, edging a split-squad Pirates club, 6-5, to improve to 6-1 in the Grapefruit League season.

Gaby Sanchez homered twice for Pittsburgh, both leadoff home runs, in the fourth and sixth innings off Mike Wright and Mark Hendrickson.

Orioles leadoff man Brian Roberts went 3-for-3, including a solo homer to start the game, in an encouraging sign for the injury-plagued second baseman.

Left fielder Nolan Reimold also hit his first spring homer, the first of a pair of long balls for the Orioles in the second inning. Reimold, who had last season cut short with neck surgery, only played two innings with his two-run, second-inning shot clearing the picnic area in left field. Wilson Betemit followed with a solo knock of his own, with all four of the runs charged to Pirates starter James McDonald.

Orioles starter Jason Hammel tossed two scoreless innings in his spring start, allowing one hit and striking out three.

"I made a goal for me in the offseason to be able to come out and pitch without a brace," said Hammel, who had a right knee injury that hampered him nearly all of last season. "So, check that one off the list.

"I can feel my lower half, it's not more of just trying to build momentum to get towards the plate because I didn't have the backside push. I felt outstanding."

Wright became the first Oriole to throw three innings this spring, and was charged with three runs, while Bucs righty Chris Leroux pitched two innings and allowed one unearned run after McDonald.

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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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Pirates avoid arbitration with Gaby Sanchez

The Pirates and Gaby Sanchez avoided arbitration today by agreeing to a one-year, $1.75 million contract including performance bonuses, according to a tweet from Sanchez's agency, the Beverly Hills Sports Council.

Sanchez, eligible for arbitration for the first time, earned $483,000 in 2012.

The Pirates still have three players -- Neil Walker, Garrett Jones and James McDonald -- eligible for arbitration. Today is the deadline for the teams and the players to exchange salary figures.

Sanchez, 29, will most likely platoon with Jones at first base and man the position when Jones plays right field. He had a .279 on-base percentage and hit seven home runs in 2012, when he joined the Pirates from the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline.

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Gaby Sanchez relies on short memory after mediocre season

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Gaby Sanchez arrived in Chicago to join his new team at the beginning of August. He had been a Pirate for eight days when the team went 16 games over .500.

Those eight days served as a preview to what could be. Sanchez then had to sit through the feature film: The disastrous second half that sent the team to a 20th consecutive sub-.500 season.

"We smelled it," Sanchez said. "We didn't get it, but we smelled it. It was within reach. We know what it's going to take to get there. We know where we faulted and what we had to do to have it not happen again."

Sanchez enters the 2013 season in a platoon at first base with the left-handed Garrett Jones. Last season, Jones played his best since 2009, his first year with the Pirates. Sanchez struggled enough with the Miami Marlins that they sent him to Class AAA, and though he performed better after coming to Pittsburgh -- he had a .720 on-base-plus-slugging percentage with the Pirates, .556 with Miami -- he finished the year with a .217 average, a .279 on-base percentage and seven home runs.

"If you had a good season, you remember it," Sanchez said. "If you didn't have a good season, you forget it very quickly. I don't really go back on what happened to me last year."

Sanchez spoke highly of the Pirates organization and said he has enjoyed his time as a part of it. Yet, like many athletes, he wants to seek out discomfort.

"When you're comfortable, that's when you're content," he said. "When you're content you never get better."

Except in the batter's box. Sanchez said he wanted to return to the swing and approach that he was familiar with and revert "back to how I hit."

Sanchez's brief experience with the version of the Pirates that contended for the National League wild-card spot enlightened him to the way the team responded when they slipped from contention.

"The guys never changed," he said. "And that's what you need."

Seven of the starting eight position players return this season, and Russell Martin will replace Rod Barajas behind the plate. The lineup showed it can keep pace with anyone in the league with its performance in June and July, and it displayed more power as well -- the Pirates hit 170 home runs in 2012, 63 more than 2011.

It also, however, showed weakness in the first two months of the season, where two runs per game were sometimes hard to come by.

"I feel like we have the pieces that we need to go out there and win," Sanchez said. "Last year we were right there."

Whether the pitching keeps pace with the offense remains uncertain. Depending on whether the Pirates can solve the riddle of Francisco Liriano, who injured his non-throwing arm in December before his two-year, $12.75 million contract with the Pirates became official, the rotation might feature two inexperienced starters. The bullpen lost a two-time All-Star selection in Joel Hanrahan, who was traded to the Boston Red Sox.

Sanchez's playing time depends on a number of factors. Jones also plays right field, but playing time there may be sparse because the Pirates want Travis Snider to play often. Jose Tabata also will take away playing time.

Jones' ineffectiveness against left-handed pitchers opens the door for Sanchez, but Clint Robinson and Jerry Sands, recently acquired in trades, could compete at first base as well. Because the five-man bench will include backup catcher Michael McKenry and utility man Josh Harrison, though, room for backup corner infielders will be scarce.

Sanchez started the quest to regain the swing that makes him feel comfortable at minicamp this week, joining a large contingent of the 40-man roster along with some non-roster invitees, the coaching staff, minor league coordinators, front office and scouting staff. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11, 30 days from today.
Sanchez said he believes the team did not transform when the wins became few and far between, leading to his belief that the team can compete again.

"It wasn't like there was any difference going on," he said. "We were having good [at-bats], we were doing what we need to do.

"Things didn't turn out how you want them to be and you look back and, OK, what changed? Well, nothing changed. We're still the same team."
Will that be enough? Those previews begin airing in a month.

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