Sanchez enjoying life on the mound

Former outfielder Salvador Sanchez is attempting to reach the majors as a reliever. Photo by: Parker Waters

Former outfielder Salvador Sanchez is attempting to reach the majors as a reliever. Photo by: Parker Waters/New Orleans Zephyrs

For the first six years of his professional baseball career, Salvador Sanchez relied on his bat in his dream of getting to the majors. But upon getting to spring training before the 2011 season with Texas, things changed for Sanchez.

“The Rangers were the ones that made the decision to put me on the mound. It was a tough decision. I had my time when everybody thought I was going to be an outfielder in the big leagues and I had a couple good years in Double-A,” Sanchez said. “It took me by surprise that they wanted me to pitch, but I knew I had the potential with my arm. I talked to my family and my agents and came to the conclusion that I was going to give it a try.”

Sanchez, 29, had totaled 51 home runs, 177 extra-base hits, 292 RBI and 102 stolen bases in six seasons as an outfielder in the White Sox organization, but hit just .256 in 565 games and struck out 475 times — nearly one-quarter of his at-bats.

After not pitching in a major league spring training game for Texas, Sanchez re-signed with the Chicago, the only club that he had ever played for, to give it a shot as a pitcher.

In three seasons and five different levels of the White Sox minor league system, the right-hander compiled a 3-5 record over 51 games, posting a 2.88 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 75 innings. Despite the strong numbers, Sanchez found himself in unaffiliated independent leagues in 2014, with New Jersey of the Can-Am League and Somerset of the Atlantic League.

“Once you’re out of affiliated ball, it’s hard to come back,” he said. “There are a lot of good players out there and there’s a lot of competition, so I’m really blessed to have this opportunity. Thanks to the Marlins; they saw me and they gave me this opportunity and I came to spring training and I did my best. It’s been a long road.”

Sanchez has endured an up-and-down start to his tenure with New Orleans, posting a 5.40 ERA over 8 1/3 innings this season, but he’s allowed just one run over his last 3 1/3 innings after a four-hit, three-run outing on April 21 against Iowa.

Like most of the Zephyrs bullpen, Sanchez been much better lately. New Orleans relievers have allowed just two earned runs over 11 innings in the last four games – three Zephyrs wins – with Sanchez working a scoreless frame in that span.

Sanchez had enjoyed the transition from the batter’s box to the pitching rubber, noting he feels like he has an advantage over hitters since he used to be just like them.

“The mentality as a pitcher, coming from being a position player, it helped me a lot. Sometimes I think as a hitter when I’m on the mound and I can think what the hitter is looking for. I use it as an advantage and it helps me a lot,” he said.

The Zephyrs are no strangers to converted pitchers. Chris Hatcher batted .167 in 17 games as a Zephyrs catcher in 2010, only to return the following season as a reliever. Hatcher went on to tie the franchise record with 49 saves over parts of three seasons, and now has established himself as a fixture in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen.

Sanchez does have an-bat this year, a double play ground-out, and said he misses hitting. But he’s a full-time pitcher now and will do anything it takes to get that long-awaited call to “The Show.”

“I love pitching, but I’m not going to lie, I miss hitting too,” he said. “But I’m playing the game that I love and it doesn’t matter what position I’m playing, I’m just happy.”

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