Bucs’ Sanchez to see specialist about shoulder

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez will see a specialist on Monday to try to determine the cause of shoulder pain that has limited the two-time All-Star infielder to only two appearances in the field this spring.

Sanchez, who has a combined .323 average over the last two seasons, complained of pain and discomfort following the Pirates’ 5-1 exhibition loss to the Reds on Friday. He had not played defensively this spring until a Wednesday night game against the Yankees.

After being examined by team doctors Friday and Saturday, Sanchez was diagnosed with rotator cuff tendinitis, or the inflammation of a tendon that can cause pain and tenderness in the shoulder. The condition is usually treated with rest and therapy, but surgery has not been ruled out.

Sanchez had arthroscopic surgery on the same shoulder during the final week of last season.

“It only hurts him when he’s throwing a baseball. He can put on his jersey, brush his teeth, pick up his kids without any pain,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “He is capable of doing everything any normal person can do but throw a baseball.”

Sanchez will fly to Birmingham, Ala., to meet with orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, who has operated on hundreds of professional athletes and specializes in performing reconstructive elbow surgery. Sanchez wants to make sure there is no problem in the shoulder that has not yet been detected.

Sanchez did not speak with reporters on Saturday, but sounded pessimistic on Friday about being ready for the Pirates’ March 31 opener against the Braves.

“Obviously, I’m getting concerned,” said Sanchez, who began last season on the disabled list with a knee injury. “I’m to the point where I just want this thing to go away. It’s not cooperating. Hopefully, we’ll find out what’s going on.”

Sanchez missed most of spring training a year ago after getting hurt while turning a double play, but recovered to hit .304 while getting a career-high 602 at-bats in 147 games. He led the NL with a .344 average in 2006.

Normally a slow starter, Sanchez is hitting .364 with no homers and 10 RBI in 44 at-bats this spring — a sign the sore shoulder isn’t affecting him at the plate.

Neither the Pirates nor Sanchez know how long the sore shoulder will keep him out.

If Sanchez can’t play, non-roster infielder Luis Rivas or utilityman Chris Gomez could start at second.

“It’s too early to tell,” Huntington said. “We still have a week of spring training left and we don’t for sure that it won’t be Freddy. There is no guarantee that he is going on the disabled list.”

Last season, Sanchez sat out the Pirates’ season-opening opening series but returned to the lineup less than a week after the season opened.

The Pirates firmed up one position Saturday before their exhibition game against Tampa Bay was rained out in the second inning, reassigning catchers Michel Hernandez and Raul Chavez to their minor league camp. The moves left only two catchers, two-year regular Ronny Paulino and Ryan Doumit, among the 37 players in camp.

Paulino, whose average dropped from .310 as a rookie in 2006 to .263 in 2007, is being pushed by Doumit, a switch-hitter who was repeatedly sidelined by hamstring injuries the last two seasons.

“I thought coming into camp that my catching days were numbered,” said Doumit, who can also play the outfield and first base. “I thought I would be spending more time in the outfield, but the way things are working out, I can see myself getting a lot of playing time behind the plate. So I’m all for it.”

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