The first thing you notice when looking at Humberto Sanchez, is that there’s a lot less of Humberto Sanchez to look at.
Noticably slimmer since his brief appearance in Trenton last season, Sanchez says he’s lost 12-15 pounds between last year and this year, with around 268 pounds sitting on his six foot, six inch tall frame right now.
“I’ve just been working hard overall and I’m trying to take care of my body a little better, and trying to get back to where I need to be,” Sanchez said.
The righty didn’t feel like he’d lost any power as a result of the weight loss, but did say there’s more to gain and there’s more room for improvement.
“Right before I came up here, I felt like I was making a lot of strides towards being where I want to be, but then I missed two weeks with non-baseball related stuff,” he said.
“It was like taking three steps forward and then taking one step back. Now, it feels like it’s getting back to where it was a couple weeks ago.”
That non-baseball related stuff?
Humberto Sanchez has chicken pox.
No, really. Even he couldn’t believe it.
“Believe it or not, chicken pox at 26 years old,” he joked.
Having to stay away from the field thanks to that has been just one part of a roller coaster season for the friendly fireballer, who was acquired in the now-infamous trade for Gary Sheffield.
Sanchez didn’t pitch much this spring, and when he did pitch, he was sidelined by a bad groin. He was relegated to pitching in extended spring games instead of being assigned to an actual team.
The next blow came when he was released by the Yankees on April 25th in order to make room on the 40-man roster for Thunder alum Mark Melancon. While Sanchez was re-signed by the organization about a week and a half later, it was minus that coveted 40-man roster spot, of course.
“It was more of a procedural thing,” Sanchez says.
“They need a spot on the roster to bring Mark up. (Brian Cashman) called me and said there’s no other way to do it, so we’re going to have to do it this way. I told him I totally agree. It’s a business. If I had been in their shoes, I would have done the same thing. They gave me the option of if I would have thought of something better out there, (I could go) but they made me feel OK that there wasn’t, so I just decided to come back here instead.”
For Sanchez, getting released by the Yankees seemed to be a polar opposite from the way he’d been treated by them just last September, earning a somewhat surprise call-up to the big leagues and getting to wear the pinstripes in some of the last games ever played at Yankee Stadium.
The 26-year-old native of the Bronx says that getting that experience at the big league level also played a role in his willingness to return.
“It left me with certain things to prove,” Sanchez said.
“There’s certain thing I need to not only prove to myself but to prove to the organization. I want to have success in the organization. They’ve invested a lot of time in me.”
And they continue to do so.
Get to the ballpark early enough, and you’ll see Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phelps working with Sanchez on his mechanics.
“He’s just a little bit side to side at times,” said Phelps, meaning that he’s getting underneath the ball too much.
“He’s leaving the ball a little elevated in the zone. We’re trying to get him to really work on finishing down in the zone and stay on top of the ball and work down through the ball.”
Sanchez further explained the adjustments the staff has been working with him on.
“It’s just staying close a little more,” he said.
“Instead of first movement being towards first base a little bit, it’s just trying to get that front side going in a little bit more of a direction towards the plate. I hadn’t thrown for two weeks, maybe I was trying to create more force coming open and they’ll be able to pick up the ball a little better. But the last couple sides have been pretty positive.”
So far this season, Sanchez has made three appearances for the Thunder, his last one going much better than the first two.
“The first outing, I made some pitches and didn’t get some calls on some pitches,” he said.
“Two pitches that I did not make left the yard. I told Tommy that it’s crazy, it was the first time I’ve ever ever given up two home runs in one inning in my life. But the stuff felt fine. It was meant to happen sooner or later. The second outing, stuff went well in the first inning. The second inning, I was a little more shaky. It was my first time throwing more than an inning in three weeks, so stuff was a little bit up.”
Saying he’s at 90-95 percent compared to where he once was, it seems to be only a matter of time before he starts climbing through the system yet again.
“I’m going full speed now,” he said.
“It’s more than enough for me to go out there and compete and give these guys a chance to win, and prove that I can actually compete and pitch with what I have right now.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com