PITTSBURGH -- Angel Sanchez was nearly ready for the Majors in 2015. He advanced from Double-A Altoona to Triple-A Indianapolis and thrived at both levels, potentially putting himself on the brink of a big league callup that September.But Sanchez left his Aug. 7, 2015, start after only 3 1/3 innings
PITTSBURGH -- Angel Sanchez was nearly ready for the Majors in 2015. He advanced from Double-A Altoona to Triple-A Indianapolis and thrived at both levels, potentially putting himself on the brink of a big league callup that September.
But Sanchez left his Aug. 7, 2015, start after only 3 1/3 innings due to pain in his right arm, and he eventually underwent Tommy John surgery on Sept. 16, 2015. After sitting out all of last season, Sanchez received his first call to the Majors from the Pirates late Tuesday night.
"It finally paid off, all the hard work," Sanchez said.
The Bucs optioned right-hander Edgar Santana, who pitched two innings in Tuesday's 8-5 loss to the Dodgers, and brought up Sanchez to bolster their overworked bullpen.
Sanchez, 27, traveled a long road to reach PNC Park on Wednesday afternoon. Originally signed by the Dodgers in July 2010, Sanchez was traded to the Marlins in a July 2013 deal for Ricky Nolasco. The Pirates claimed him off waivers from the White Sox on July 3, 2014.
He went to the Arizona Fall League in late 2014 and pitched out of the bullpen, his first extended exposure to working in relief. He impressed in 2015, posting a 2.69 ERA in 23 starts between Double-A and Triple-A. Then came the arm injury, surgery and a long rehabilitation process.
The first three months were the toughest on Sanchez, who thought about the opportunities he may have missed in September and would certainly miss in 2016.
"After that, my mentality changed. I said I'm going to work hard to come back stronger in the spring," he said.
He was motivated to succeed for his late grandmother, Rosa Suarez, who always encouraged him to pursue his passion for baseball. After Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett told Sanchez he was headed to Pittsburgh, Sanchez called his wife and his aunt, Bienvenida Suarez, who helped raise him.
"I was really surprised," Sanchez said. "I had nothing to say."
Sanchez moved to the bullpen full-time this year and posted a 3.74 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings over 39 appearances for Indianapolis. He was scored upon just twice in his past 15 games since July 4, posting a 1.53 ERA during that stretch.
"It's a guy that's gotten better as the year's gone on," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a guy we thought of a lot two years ago that's dealt with his own set of adversity and challenges and perseverance, and he's gotten back. We feel this is a good opportunity for us to take a look at him."
With Sanchez providing the Pirates a much-needed fresh arm, Santana will return to the Indianapolis bullpen for now. He is a likely candidate to rejoin the bullpen when rosters expand from 25 to 40 players in September. Santana gave up a two-run homer to Yasmani Grandal in the seventh inning Tuesday and owns a 6.52 ERA after 10 big league appearances.
"He can learn," Hurdle said. "But it wasn't about performance at all, as I told Edgar on the way out."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.