Originally written on Pirates Prospects  |  Last updated 4/5/13
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Jonathan Sanchez looks to improve on his 8.07 ERA from a year ago. Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez will be making his first regular season start for the Pirates on Friday night at Dodger Stadium. “Jonathan has made as good a stride as anyone we had in camp, with the command, with the four-pitch mix,” Hurdle said. “He’s excited. He’s in the best place he’s been: physically, self-confidence, all those things packed together.” Catcher Michael McKenry (not in tonight’s lineup) spoke highly of Sanchez’s deception with his pitches. He also said that Sanchez was much more comfortable starting than out of the bullpen. Over his four spring training starts, Sanchez had a 3.68 ERA, generated 14 strikeouts and allowed three walks over 13.2 innings. “He’s all about filling up the zone,” McKenry said. “When he can do that, he’s really special. He did it all spring… and ended the spring really nicely.” McKenry described Sanchez as having “electric stuff,” and he’s not wrong. You don’t strike out 23% of the hitters you face (as Sanchez did most recently in 2011) without good stuff. The problem, still, is command. Sanchez walked 16% of batters last year, the most in baseball, and allowed batters to hit .305, which was 10th among pitchers with 60+ innings. I wasn’t able to talk to Jonathan Sanchez in the clubhouse. To make up for it, here are some lovely GIFs of Sanchez pitching in April two years ago, when he started the 2011 season strong. First, check out Sanchez getting good movement on his 90 mph fastball to strike out Albert Pujols. Now here’s something the Pirates hope Sanchez can do to Andre Ethier, get him to swing and miss on an 81 mph power slider. McKenry on Sanchez’s slider: “It can be a slider, it can more of a short break, big break, or a really big break… It’s definitely his out pitch.” And look how frustrated Ethier was! That’s what Sanchez can do. Will he? I doubt it, but I can be convinced. Dodger Stadium at least presents a familiar environment (7 appearances, 5.20 ERA, 26 strikeouts, 17 walks in 27.2 innings). Travis Snider in the lineup Snider is starting in right field and hitting seventh against starter Zack Greinke, who is making his Dodgers debut. Talk about a tough way  to get started. “I faced him in the A.L. in 2009 when he was at the top of his game,” Snider said. “He knows how to mix his pitches well. He’s going to be a bulldog on the mound. You have to be patient.” It is his Snider’s start of 2013 after he sat for the first three games in favor of Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata. The starts for Sanchez against right-handed pitchers surprised many fans, but Snider understands the situation. “I watched spring training. I saw Gaby and Garrett… they swung the bat really well,” Snider said. The left-handed hitter was informed by Hurdle before Opening Day that he would not start (“You appreciate that communication from the coaching staff”), and is still making adjustments to his swing. “I wanted to break out with the guys who were swinging the bat the best. You saw what happened in the three-game series,” Hurdle said. “Travis made very good strides throughout Spring Training.” Hotter Weather, Hotter Bats? The temperature will be 65 degrees for first pitch, and Hurdle agreed it should be a much more comfortable hitting environment for his team, one that scored only six runs and no homers in three games at PNC Park, with temperatures in the 30′s and 40′s. “It’s gonna be a difference,” Hurdle said. “Not that we were uncomfortable, but it’s a challenge coming out of Spring Training when you’re in that kind of weather.” Hurdle praised the Cubs pitchers that limited the Pirates’ run production, but added, “We missed some pitches. We probably weren’t as aggressive in the strike zone as we needed to be.” You can say that again. The Bucs swung at only 55% of pitches inside the strike zone to start the season, the third-lowest mark in baseball. The Dodgers were the lowest at 54%. SoCal Connections Russell Martin returns to Dodger Stadium after playing five seasons in L.A., and the first time he is playing at Chavez Ravine since 2010. “It feels weird being on the other side,” Martin said, and noted to Tom Bragg yesterday, “I’ll embrace it, whatever happens.” Hurdle mentioned that Martin did not get as much time catching regular games in Spring Training as he would have liked, so he is looking forward to Martin catching the Pirates’ top four pitchers their first time through the rotation. I tweeted yesterday that Martin is +8 as a receiver, meaning his pitch framing has gotten pitcher eight more strikes than average through three games. Relievers Justin Wilson and Jared Hughes also have Southern California ties. Wilson (born in nearby Anaheim) said he left 20 tickets for friends and family tonight, his Dodger Stadium debut. Hughes, who was born in the area and lived in L.A. before moving to Texas, doesn’t notice the family presence when he’s on the mound. “But it is nice to be able to go out to lunch with Mom and Dad, and have that support system when you are leaving after the game,” Hughes said. His favorite spot for lunch? In-N-Out Burger, of course. Pirates Lineup: LF Starling Marte 2B Neil Walker (S) CF Andrew McCutchen 3B Pedro Alvarez (L) C Russell Martin 1B Garrett Jones (L) RF Travis Snider (L) SS Clint Barmes LHP Jonathan Sanchez Dodgers Lineup: LF Carl Crawford (L) 2B Mark Ellis CF Matt Kemp 1B Adrian Gonzalez 3B Luiz Cruz LF Andre Ethier (L) C A.J. Ellis SS Justin Sellers RHP Zack Greinke
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