Freddy Sanchez is not having any trouble seeing the ball.
In his first at bats of the season with San Jose Monday night, Sanchez backed up the talk that his shoulder injury hasn’t affected his swing. In his first of four scheduled rehab starts at Municipal Stadium this week, the contact throughout a 1-for-3 night was loud. His first time up he drove a soaring fly out to the left-field warning track. In his next at bat, he smoked a worm-burner back up the middle for a single.
“I hadn’t seen a live pitch in a week,” Sanchez said. “So, I came out just hoping to make contact, to be honest with you. This is my spring training.”
But, once again, the bat is not the issue. It’s the throwing arm. And, debuting as a designated hitter doesn’t help to dispel any concern that the Giants World Series hero of two years ago is damaged beyond repair.
According to Sanchez, Giants manager Bruce Bochy communicated to him that the rehab timetable is roughly three weeks. That’s the soonest he will rejoin the big club.
But, Sanchez’s true test is yet to come. Since dislocating his shoulder June 10 of last year while attempting to make a diving backhand at AT&T Park, his ability to play baseball has been derailed by his inability to throw. It’s only as recently as the outset of spring training that the second baseman was even able to play catch.
This week, he’s hoping to take the critical step in returning to San Francisco’s lineup from surgery last August to repair the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Due to a three-hour flight delay Monday from Arizona to San Francisco, Sanchez wasn’t able to work out defensively prior to the game. He is tentatively scheduled to take groundballs Tuesday. And, if all goes well, he will get his first start at second base on Wednesday.
“Sometimes it just takes a little longer to get warmed up,” Sanchez said. “But, I’ve been throwing a lot, and it’s just a matter of it holding up throughout the whole game.”
San Jose manager Andy Skeels is no stranger to the day-to-day of managing a player going through shoulder rehabilitation. Former Giants prospect Thomas Neal, who underwent shoulder surgery in 2007, played for Skeels for three years at three different levels.
It was a long road back for Neal. And, even though he got his career back on track – Neal hit .337 with 22 home runs at San Jose in 2009 to earn team MVP honors – the shoulder still hampers him. In his first spring training with the Indians, after being traded by the Giants last season for veteran shortstop Orlando Cabrera, Neal reported to camp early this year to work on strengthening his throwing shoulder.
“For big-league guys I think it’s a slightly different deal,” Skeels said. “Everybody in San Francisco really wants Freddy to get healthy as fast as he can. At the same time, you can’t get out in front of what nature’s own schedule happens to be. So, it’s that tough push-and-pull between wanting to get him out there as fast as you can, and also making sure he doesn’t get out there before he’s really ready.”
One things for sure: Giants fans are really ready for him to return. When Sanchez was announced for his first at bat Monday, he received a heartfelt ovation from the upwards of 1,400 in attendance at Municipal Stadium. It was by far the biggest ovation for any single player in San Jose this season.
Even early on, the fanfare was evident. During batting practice, one autograph seeker asked every player in a Giants jersey if he was Freddy Sanchez. Catcher Dan Burkhart finally stopped and signed for the excited fan. It can neither be confirmed nor denied that Burkhart signed Sanchez’s name.