Did Jonathan Sanchez take a planned bullet for Bucs?
The six-game suspension handed left-hander Jonathan Sanchez for his Friday night plunking of Allen Craig caused … nearly a ripple around the Pirates clubhouse. Detached observers considered the discipline excessive.
Clint Hurdle, meanwhile, virtually shrugged it off. Even the part where Sanchez is appealing the suspension, in the meanwhile keeping him active — in the Bucs bullpen.
So here is a radical thought: This whole thing went down precisely the way the Bucs wanted it, volunteering and sacrificing a marginal pitcher to make the point the NL Central kingpins will no longer push them around.
Well, not exactly the way Hurdle wanted it to go down. No manager likes his bullpen thrown into disarray by losing his starter before an out is even recorded. But other than that — a potential catastrophy with long-term effects that was avoided thanks to Jeanmar Gomez’s 4 1/3-inning relief stint — the Bucs got a message across.
Last season, Reds and Cardinals pitchers combined to hit Pirates batters 13 times — including Aroldis Chapman’s notorious 98-mph heater off Andrew McCutchen’s shoulder. The Pirates got six of theirs, but otherwise made a point of maintaining their cool because their thin ranks couldn’t afford the toll of retaliation, losing key players to discipline.
No disrespect, but Jonathan Sanchez is not a key player on this team. Even if he were pitching reasonably well, he’d only be keeping a spot warm for Francisco Liriano or Charlie Morton.
So he was the perfect messenger after Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday had begun Friday’s game by digging in and swinging from the heels.
Isn’t is reasonable to assume that in the typical pre-game skull session, Sanchez was encouraged to bust some hitters inside if he felt they were too comfortable? The Bucs didn’t mind, perhaps even planned, for Sanchez to take a bullet for them.
They just didn’t want it to happen so early. Otherwise, they delivered an important message without having to pay a heavy price.