'Last shot' motivates Sanchez to improve control

Fighting for roster spot with Reds, lefty aims to put wild seasons behind him

March 7th, 2016

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Finally, left-hander Jonathan Sanchez gets it. Pitching isn't just about throwing hard. The question is whether it's too late to make a difference for him in pro ball.

Sanchez is 33. He hasn't played in the Majors or Minors for the past two years. But Sanchez still has the dream, and so he is in camp with the Reds this spring, looking for that one last chance to turn potential into results.

Oh, Sanchez had his moment in the sun, but it was fleeting, roughly a season and a half out of a big league career that included parts of eight seasons.

After Sanchez was briefly pulled from the Giants' rotation in late June 2009, he got a second chance to start. He made good, going 6-4 when he returned that season and throwing a no-hitter against the Padres on July 10. And Sanchez was a regular in the rotation for San Francisco in 2010, going 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA.

Sanchez struck out 205 batters that season, which ranked eighth in the National League, and he allowed a Major League-best 6.61 hits per nine innings. What couldn't be ignored, however, was that he also led the Majors with 96 walks.

"That's the way I pitch," Sanchez said when his control issues were raised.

Not for much longer, it wasn't. In the three ensuing seasons, Sanchez went from the Giants to the Royals to the Rockies to the Pirates, winning five of 24 decisions. He appeared in only 39 more big league games, allowing 124 earned runs in 179 2/3 innings, in which he walked 127 batters.

"I don't want to be a businessman," Sanchez said. "I want to be a baseball player. I stayed in shape and worked to get better. I was hoping the opportunity [to pitch again] would come."

It did, thanks to Reds Double-A manager Pat Kelly, who spends his offseasons managing Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Sanchez made brief appearances with the team the past two winters, and Kelly, with a strong push from Mayaguez pitching coach Alex Cruz, recommended the revamping Reds give Sanchez a look.

Sanchez's pro ball efforts the past two years consisted of one appearance in which he faced seven batters, got two outs and gave up five runs with the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate in Iowa. He, however, worked with Cruz back home in Puerto Rico, getting in better shape and getting a better idea of the importance of throwing strikes.

"He told me it was going to be my last shot," said Sanchez. "We talked about [how] I have nothing to lose. We tried something new. We just simplified my mechanics. Everything is simpler, like the stretch, even when I wind up. I stay on top of the ball better."

Now comes the real test. Now, Sanchez will find out if the hitters are impressed. He made his spring debut last Thursday against Cleveland, working two scoreless innings, but he also walked two. Sanchez is scheduled to return to the mound again on Tuesday night against San Francisco in Scottsdale.

There will be some old feelings in that game. Scottsdale Stadium is where the big league world began for the Sanchez. A 27th-round Draft pick out of Dominion College in Columbus, Ohio, in 2004, he wound up on the fast track to the big leagues, debuting for the Giants on May 28, 2006, just one year and 346 days after he signed his first professional contract.

In retrospect, Sanchez said it was too much too soon.

"I didn't get a feel for how to manage a game," Sanchez said. "I just went and threw the ball. I had a live arm. I had success, but not enough.

"Now I'm not in the mid-90s. I pitch more. Before, I blew hitters away and got away with a lot of pitches out of the zone because hitters were anxious."

The past two years, however, have given Sanchez plenty of time to reflect and revamp.

Sanchez wanted one last shot, and the Reds are providing that. In the next couple of weeks, they will find out if Sanchez can take advantage of the opportunity.