ALLENTOWN — After catching seven innings both Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday’s game was the last hurdle Gary Sanchez had to clear in his rehab stint with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Just nine innings as the team’s designated hitter stood between Sanchez and rejoining the New York Yankees Friday at Chicago, just in time for a weekend series against the Cubs.
And Sanchez made the most of his first nine-inning game since early April, providing the RailRiders (13-12) with a team-high two hits — along with shortstop Tyler Wade. However, it wasn’t enough as Lehigh Valley IronPigs (14-12) came back to sink the RailRiders for the second time in three days, 5-3.
“(I) didn’t feel any problems with my arm and (I) was happy to get five at-bats with some pitching,” Sanchez said through an interpreter. “The only thing that was in (my) mind was to find out if (I) was 100 percent healthy and help us win today. It didn’t happen, but (I) feel like (I’m) ready to go help New York.”
Not only did Sanchez drive in the RailRiders’ first run of the game, but he also had the team’s first hit — a single to shallow center field. He was 2 for 5 on the day, with a double, two runs and an RBI.
“We asked him a couple times today during the game how he was feeling. He said he was fine — he was ready to go,” Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders manager Al Pedrique said. “Swinging the bat, he just needs to see light pitching. Overall, he looked good. Defensively, those two games that he caught, he didn’t see any issues.”
When Sanchez joined the RailRiders on Tuesday, he was given a program by the Yankees. He was to catch seven innings Tuesday and Wednesday and DH all nine innings of Thursday’s matinee, and continue the workout and treatment plan set for him in New York. By all accounts from Pedrique, he’s done just what the Yankees have asked of him.
Pedrique expects Sanchez to join the Yankees for Friday’s game in Chicago. Sanchez tweeted early Thursday evening that he was on his way to Chicago and expected to play Friday.
“He was supposed to keep getting treatment and that’s what he did. With the trainers, they stayed with the program that was sent from the major league medical staff,” Pedrique said. “Preparation in the cage. He did his routine — flips, hit off the tee, soft toss. We took (batting practice) one time on the field and he looked good. He went through the routine no problems. All three games, I kept asking, ‘How are you feeling?’ He’s 100 percent ready to go.”
Doing his rehab at Lehigh Valley, Sanchez’s career thus far has somewhat come full circle.
Even though Sanchez was called up in Sept. 2015, he only appeared in a pair of games and made two appearances at the plate, both ending in outs. Sanchez then came back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for the 2016 season, where he appeared in 71 games and finished with a .282 batting average, 10 home runs and 51 RBI. Then, on Aug. 3 he was called up before a game against the New York Mets — while he was at this very same park — and from there it was history.
In fact, in the RailRiders’ Aug. 2 loss to the IronPigs, Sanchez was also the designated hitter. He was 0 for 3 with a walk and a strikeout.
“Last year was (my) best year in the minor leagues so far in my playing career,” Sanchez said. “We had a lot of fun, we worked hard and (I’m) hoping this year (they have the same success) because (I) really enjoyed the guys last year. They played together as a team on the field, off the field. Good chemistry.”
After an historic finish to last year’s major league campaign, Sanchez held some lofty expectations entering the season. Batting second as the Yankees’ most popular player — Sanchez was New York’s highest-selling jersey in April, and No. 9 in all of baseball — he was expected to be a force at the top of the lineup.
But a combination of a .150 batting average and his DL stint mixed with the Yankees’ massive success in his absence, has Sanchez itching to return to a squad that is 16-5 without him.
“It’s why you call it a team. Somebody goes down and you have the rest of the guys taking over, and that’s what happened with (Austin) Romine, (Kyle Higashioka),” Sanchez said. “They both call good games, they both help the team to get some wins and (I’m) happy for that. (My) part is to get healthy, be ready and hopefully (I’ll) contribute to what the team has done the last couple weeks.”
RailRiders starting pitcher Brady Lail, had a taxing outing on Thursday, and by the sixth inning it had caught up with him.
In a 3-3 ballgame, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre saw the first three batters get on base only to have IronPigs left fielder Dylan Cozens and center fielder Nick Williams cash in with a pair of RBI singles. Lail finished with 101 pitches and walked five batters.
“Right from the beginning of the game you could tell he didn’t have a good rhythm,” Pedrique said. “Any time you can tell you work behind the count, walk the lead-off hitter — I think he did it three or four times today — sooner or later, in the fifth, sixth inning when you have accumulated so many pitches, you’re going to make mistakes and I think that’s what happened.”
Choi still out
Without the ability to take batting practice each of the last two days, Ji-Man Choi has been sidelined since he felt discomfort in his left wrist before Tuesday’s game. He will test out the hand in batting practice Friday before the RailRiders make a decision on his future.
If Choi is out Friday, or for an extended period of time, Pedrique plans to use Cito Culver and Wilkin Castillo at first base. Castillo played the position for the first time since spring training on Thursday and handled every ball that came his way.
The RailRiders open up a three-game set against the Syracuse Chiefs Friday at PNC Field. Lehigh Valley heads to Buffalo for a three-game series against the Bisons starting Friday.
Lehigh Valley 5, RailRiders 3
E: Fowler (3), Valentin (3) Moore (1). LOB: RailRiders 8, IronPigs 5. 2B: Sanchez (2), Frazier (9), Wade (2), Hoskins (6). HR: Moore (2). SF: Hoskins. SB: Quinn (6). CS: N. Williams (1).
Lail (L, 1-2)`5.1`4`5`5`5`4
Venditte (W, 1-0)`2.0`0`0`0`2`3
Mariot (H, 3)`1.0`0`0`0`0`2
Beato (S, 5)`1.0`0`0`0`0`0
WP: Lail 2, Gallegos.
Umpires: James Rackely, HP; Charlie Ramos, 1B; Jansen Visconti, 3B.
T: 2:45. Att: 10,100.
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle