Giants' Sanchez tips scales in his favor
Lefty's added weight should improve velocity, durability
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jonathan Sanchez is poised to carry more weight this season, literally and figuratively.Sanchez has always looked as if the next big gust of wind at AT&T Park would propel him to the warning track like a latter-day Stu Miller. But the left-hander is approaching Spring Training with unprecedented heft, having gained a self-proclaimed 12 pounds to boost his weight to 200. "Slender" still best describes the 6-foot-2 Sanchez's physique. But his transformation is thick with meaning for the Giants, whose pitchers and catchers begin workouts Thursday. Sanchez's weight gain should help him impart more force on his pitches, particularly his already lively fastball. "It'll have more velocity and it's going to rise more," an upbeat Sanchez said recently. The diligence he maintained while bulking up reflected a maturity that the Giants had been awaiting from him. Sanchez goaded himself into working out almost daily this offseason. "My light day was Sunday," said Sanchez, 27. "I'd just long-toss and run." Aware that the regular season can sap a player's energy and strength, Sanchez said that he wants to open the season at 205 pounds to fend off physical erosion. "In terms of being ready every day and getting his work in, he's past that now," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "Now he's into, 'OK, I want to be good.' That's what I like to see. Now we've got a guy who's got his nose to the grindstone." If all this enables Sanchez to accelerate the progress he made in 2009, when he threw the Giants' first no-hitter in 33 years, another drought -- the club's six-year streak of missing the postseason -- will have a greater chance of ending. Imagine how formidable the Giants' rotation, led by Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito, would be with Sanchez, the projected fourth starter, winning 12 to 15 games. The Giants haven't had four double-digit winners in one season since '02, when all five primary starters (Livan Hernandez, Russ Ortiz, Kirk Rueter, Jason Schmidt and Ryan Jensen) exceeded 12 victories apiece for the National League champions. Few doubt Sanchez's ability to improve. In terms of raw stuff, he's already considered among the NL's elite. He ranked fourth among starters with 9.75 strikeouts per nine innings last year, trailing Lincecum (10.42), Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo (9.89) and Atlanta's Javier Vazquez (9.77). He also recorded the fourth-lowest opponents' batting average (.221), outdone only by the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (.200), Lincecum (.206) and Gallardo (.219). But consistency always has eluded Sanchez, who enters this season with a career 21-30 record and a 4.81 ERA in 121 appearances (66 starts) since '06. He steadied himself to a degree last year, beginning with his July 10 no-hitter against San Diego. Including that gem, Sanchez was 6-4 with a 3.46 ERA in his last 16 starts to finish 8-12, 4.24 overall. By now, most Giants observers know the background of Sanchez's resurgence. Banished to the bullpen in June after his record sank to 2-8 with a 5.54 ERA, Sanchez worked with Righetti on slowing down his pitching motion. This helped Sanchez raise his arm slot slightly at his release point. Previously, he'd rush his delivery, lower his arm slot and lose command of his pitches. Even with his promising second half, Sanchez walked 88 in 163 1/3 innings. "When you buy time, your arm has a chance to rotate and get out at different angles," Righetti said. "Not only that, it takes some stress off his arm so he'll have a full season." That was an issue for Sanchez in '08, when he went on the disabled list in mid-August with a strained throwing shoulder. Durability remained a challenge for him last year, as he pitched into the seventh inning just five times. Thus, another goal for Sanchez would be totaling 200 innings, a level that Lincecum, Cain and Zito have attained. Righetti, for one, believes that this milestone is within reach. "He's much more aware of his surroundings," Righetti said. "There's so much that's involved in staying on that rubber the whole year."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.