Stewart's injury gives Sanchez chance to make roster

Stewart's injury gives Sanchez chance to make roster

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates appeared to be hamstrung in facing a decision on Tony Sanchez, who is having the Spring Training of his life.

Chris Stewart's right hamstring, however, will apparently give Sanchez new Major League life.

The team's Thursday morning roundup of injury updates included this very unusual description of Stewart's status with his strained hamstring: "Week to week, but will likely be out of game activity for at least two weeks."

Besides the fact "week to week" was a new wrinkle in baseball's "day to day" world, the likelihood of Stewart not being game-ready for two more weeks virtually assures Sanchez of being on the Pirates' Opening Day roster.

Sanchez had made it a year ago, when Stewart was recovering from right knee surgery for a meniscus repair.

Stewart will hit the two-week mark on April 2 -- the Bucs' final day in Florida -- and only four days before the opener in Cincinnati. Although general manager Neal Huntington still hedged on the issue, it is inconceivable for Stewart to avoid opening the season on the DL.

"He did come through the knee surgery quickly last year," reasoned Huntington.

Stewart had the operation on March 19 and was back in the Bucs' lineup on April 20 -- playing all of a 14-inning game, no less.

Sanchez hammers two-run shot

"It's way too early to tell if a DL assignment will be required," Huntington said. "The nice part is, Sanchez has had a great camp on all sides of the game, and if Chris is not ready, we feel strongly about having somebody who can step in."

Sanchez has also had a conspicuous camp, with a glaring .526 batting average and 1.518 OPS. His most important contributions have been more subtle and mostly behind the plate.

Sanchez had an extended run early last season as the Bucs' primary catcher, when Russell Martin, out with a strained left hamstring, crossed DL paths with Stewart. The Pirates went 10-10 in Sanchez's starts, and pitchers had a collective 3.99 ERA with him behind the plate.

"Our focus is on continuing to help Sanchez be ready, if needed," Huntington summed up. "And if [Stewart] is ready to go, we'll have a lot of catching depth."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.