After being even more uncommonly awful in four previous spring training games than he was all of last season, when he was just about the worst pitcher in MLB, Jonathan Sanchez turned in what might be considered an impressive performance for the Pirates yesterday. Except it came against the Houston Astros.
On their best day, the Astros -- who have lost 213 games in the past two seasons -- cannot put anything remotely resembling an MLB lineup on the field. For this mid-March exhibition, they sent out most of their regulars but neither Carlos Pena nor Brett Wallace. There wasn’t a hitter of note, save leadoff man Jose Altuve.
Sanchez handled that lineup well -- three innings, one hit, no walks, three strikeouts -- to lower his spring ERA from 11.81 to 7.56.
Other than Altuve, who batted .500 for the day, the Astros did not have a hitter with a lifetime batting average over .252 in their starting lineup. It was an improvement that Sanchez could navigate his way through such a batting order, but hardly an encouraging sign.
That dispatches from the game were full of speculation about the status of Sanchez in the Pirates’ plans either speaks to the desperate condition of the team’s rotation or that a spring training stupor has set in among some members of the media.
Manager Clint Hurdle did nothing to dim the speculation. Of Sanchez, he said, ``Another big step forward for him. We're still looking at how he can fit and best serve the ballclub.”
As is somewhat common with veterans with an MLB pedigree, Sanchez can opt out of his contract on March 24 and become a free agent. Exactly where he would go and who would want him remains to be determined.
There was the typical speculation that it might be hard to find a spot on the 40-man roster for Sanchez. Good grief! If the man is good enough for the Opening Day rotation, it just might be possible to make room for him on the 40-man roster by removing, say, Jeanmar Gomez -- spring training ERA 9.00, MLB career ERA 5.18 -- or Chase d’Arnaud -- spring training batting average .214, career batting average .208. To name two of several easily dispatched players.
No question, with his resume, Sanchez was worth a look. No question, if he does not opt out of his contract, he should be given a spot in the Indianapolis rotation. But based on what he did last season and based on how he has pitched this spring, he does not belong in the discussion for the starting rotation.
With three spots locked for A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald and a fourth for Jeff Karstens, if he’s healthy -- and indications are he will be -- Sanchez does not belong in the discussion.
Kyle McPherson, with five shutout innings Thursday against a Philadelphia lineup that included Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Michael Young, has vaulted to the forefront in the competition for the fifth spot. Jeff Locke, with a spring ERA of 4.05 , also should be well ahead of Sanchez.