SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Hector Sanchez’s physical on Wednesday was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. local time. But maybe Sanchez, excited as he was to be at spring training on the day the world champion San Francisco Giants began reporting, was simply eager to receive a clean bill of health and get back to being behind the plate.
The 25-year-old catcher, or someone else, had scribbled Sanchez’s name into a pair of earlier time slots for the physical. The routine checkup wasn’t expected to reveal anything more than confirmation that Sanchez, coming back from two concussions that cut short his 2014 season, is back to 100 percent.
“Two hundred percent,” he said with a laugh.
Sanchez had been the Giants’ backup catcher until late July, when he suffered his first concussion. Then, while on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Fresno on Aug. 16, he took a hard foul tip off his mask, which led to a second concussion.
Sanchez didn’t play again, looking on with sadness, as he described it, as his teammates worked their way to a third World Series title in the past five seasons.
“I felt dizzy. I was tired but I couldn’t sleep, and because of that I was always in a bad mood,” he said of dealing with the effects of the concussions. “I’d never gone through anything like that in my life. And there’s no treatment, only rest.”
Sanchez acknowledged that he feared he might never play again. But his condition improved enough for him to return to his native Venezuela for winter ball, where he was only allowed to be a designated hitter in games.
That didn’t stop Sanchez from getting in some catching time in workouts.
“During winter ball I worked a little bit with the pitching staff, blocking (baseballs) and stuff. But I didn’t want to do too much,” he said.
He and Giants manager Bruce Bochy confirmed that Sanchez, who arrived noticeably slimmer than last season, will take his place behind the plate on Thursday and catch the first spring training bullpen sessions for Giants pitchers.
“It’s great to see the commitment he’s made this winter to get himself into this kind of shape,” Bochy said. “And he knows it’s going to be competitive. he’ll be doing everything.”
Sanchez examined his hockey-style catcher’s mask and popped his glove a few times before being asked about his condition.
“Working hard and eating healthy,” Sanchez said of his new look. “That was important for me because last year with the concussions, I couldn’t do anything.”
But even just swinging the bat in Venezuela helped him, and Sanchez, while acknowledging the dangerous nature of his position, said he prefers it regardless.
“It’s the only way I know how to play baseball,” he said. “I know it’s not safe. But I love what I do.”
Aside from getting back into a defensive rhythm, Sanchez will have to compete for the job he lost because of his injuries last season. Andrew Susac, a rookie call-up who hit .273 with three home runs and 19 RBIs and made 20 regular-season starts at catcher in 2014, has roughly half a major-league season and a postseason under his belt. He enters the spring as the presumed incumbent to back up Buster Posey.
Sanchez hit just .196 with three homers and 28 RBIs in the 66 games he appeared in last season for the Giants. But he has parts of four seasons of major-league experience.
“He did a really good job and he’s a really good player,” Sanchez said of Susac, with whom he later slapped a fancy high-five in the clubhouse. “I’ll just come in here and do what I have to do. That’s working hard, and they (coaching staff) make the decision. It’s out of my hands.”