SAN DIEGO -- In no uncertain terms, Gary Sánchez helped keep the 2023 Padres afloat. Claimed off waivers from the Mets in May, Sánchez raked from the moment he arrived. He fit in seamlessly with San Diego's pitching staff. And although Sánchez wouldn’t quite sustain his torrid start at the plate, he put together a remarkable bounceback season with the Padres.
That bounceback season appears to have met a cruel, early end.
In the Padres’ 5-1 loss to the Phillies on Wednesday afternoon at Petco Park, Sánchez sustained a fractured right wrist when he was hit by a pitch from reliever Jeff Hoffman in the bottom of the eighth. Sánchez remained in the game momentarily to run the bases, but he was replaced behind the plate by Luis Campusano to start the ninth.
“The opportunity I was given here -- the opportunity to play and to have some success -- it’s unfortunate that it’s ending a little bit early,” Sánchez said in Spanish through interpreter Danny Sanchez. “But I’m really grateful to the organization for the way they’ve treated me.”
Really, the Padres couldn’t have asked for much more from Sánchez. They’d gotten the worst production in the Majors out of their catchers, according to fWAR. So, they claimed him mostly as a flier.
Then, Sánchez debuted and rekindled his All-Star-caliber form. He homered six times in his first 13 games. Sánchez finished with 19 home runs and a .792 OPS with the Padres, to go along with rave reviews from San Diego's pitching staff.
“That’s a huge blow for us, man,” said Michael Wacha, who allowed three runs across four innings. “Ever since we acquired him, he’s come in and swung the bat really well and been great behind the plate with all of us pitchers. We’re definitely going to miss him. Wishing him a speedy recovery.”
Sánchez spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Yankees. He was a two-time All-Star who endured some serious ups and downs in New York. After the 2021 season, Sánchez was traded to Minnesota, then spent time with the Giants and Mets before he was claimed by San Diego, where the fit was perfect.
Sánchez developed a particular rapport with Blake Snell, whose NL Cy Young push took off when he paired with Sánchez as his batterymate. Now, Sánchez is slated to become a free agent after the season, though he clearly has interest in returning.
“I’ve been a big fan of the chemistry here, the way coaches have treated me, my teammates have treated me,” Sánchez said. “They really received me well from Day 1, and I’ve felt comfortable here, so I’d love to come back. At the end of the day, though, it is a business. We’ll see what happens.”
The Padres enter the offseason in need of a catcher. Campusano has emerged as a strong option behind the plate, but he’s done so in a timeshare with Sánchez -- and San Diego might be looking for the same type of arrangement next year, even if Sánchez isn’t the other catcher. Clearly, the clubhouse hopes he will be.
“The guy came in with a mission, and he started balling out since Day 1,” said Fernando Tatis Jr. “He became one of the best catchers in the game right away. … He’s a great clubhouse teammate. He’s played hard since the day he got here. How can you put it in words? He’s just a good environment to be around.”
Sánchez’s fracture is the latest blow to a team that’s been ravaged by injuries recently. Another of those came Tuesday night when Ji Man Choi sustained a Lisfranc injury in his right foot while on a rehab assignment with Triple-A El Paso, potentially ending his season.
Meanwhile, Yu Darvish (right elbow bone spur) and Joe Musgrove (right shoulder capsule inflammation) continue to play catch as they eye late-September returns. But the injuries and the losses are piling up for the Padres (66-75). In the playoff picture, they’re alive only mathematically.
Both Darvish and Musgrove recently signed long-term contracts, and it’s worth wondering if the Padres would simply shut those two down to ensure their health moving forward. The same goes for infielder Jake Cronenworth, who also sustained a right wrist fracture on a hit-by-pitch.
Now, Sánchez joins that group.
“You’re sick to your stomach,” said manager Bob Melvin. “He’s put together an incredible year. Tough travels to begin with. He gets here and he’s impactful right away, fits into this team like a glove. Just a lot of great stuff he’s accomplished this year. And with not too much time left, it’s a tough pill to swallow for everybody.”