With shortstop Tommy Manzella (fractured left index finger) and veteran Geoff Blum (right elbow surgery) on the 15-day disabled list, it’s opened the door for Angel Sanchez to receive extended playing time for the time being.
The 26-year-old Sanchez was acquired via a trade from the Boston Red Sox on July 1 in exchange for minor league catcher Kevin Cash.
Boston needed a short-term catcher to fill the void of the injured Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek, both on the 15-day disabled list, and decided to pursue Cash.
On the flip side, the Astros intended to utilize Blum while Manzella recovered for his respective injury, but when the 37-year-old veteran utility infielder injured his right elbow in late June at San Diego, it forced general manager Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills to explore other options.
Fortunately, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein was willing to part with Sanchez, considering that Boston already has shortstop Marco Scutaro signed to a two-year contract.
At this point, it appears the Astros received the better end of the deal.
Cash no longer had a future with Houston and ultimately found himself stuck at Triple-A Round Rock after being designated for assignment on June 20 in favor of the promotion of top prospect Jason Castro.
He’s currently hitting .118 (4-for-34) with Boston, and will likely be designated for assignment upon the return of Martinez to the starting lineup.
In regard to Sanchez, the Astros were simply hoping that he and Oswaldo Navarro could hold down the fort until either Manzella or Blum returned to action. However, Sanchez has exceed expectations and continues to turn heads now that he’s been given an opportunity to showcase his skills at the major league level.
With 2009 first-round pick Jiovanni Mier at Class-A Lexington and a long way from making his major league debut, this was suppose to be the season in which Manzella seized the starting job at shortstop.
However, it’s been a consistent struggle at the plate for the 27-year-old Manzella, who was hitting just .212 with one homer and 16 RBI in 59 games prior to being placed on the 15-day disabled list June 23.
The fractured left index finger — a six-week expected recovery process — has been a major setback in his overall major league development, especially since he still needs to prove himself to Wade and Mills.
Although Manzella still factors in Houston’s plans, the sudden emergence of Sanchez could potentially change everything.
Mills inserted Sanchez into the No. 2 spot in the starting lineup for Monday’s three-game series opener against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Ultimately, he posted his first career three-hit game, going 3-for-6 with a double and run scored.
Sanchez made a significant impact in Houston’s season-high 11 runs and 17 hits, which resulted in a solid 11-5 victory over Chicago.
“I was able to get good pitches to hit,” Sanchez said regarding Monday’s performance. “We had a good game. We were really patient at the plate. You take a different approach and try to get on base hitting No. 2 rather than No. 8 in the lineup.”
Over the last two games, Sanchez has posted five hits in nine at-bats, raising his batting average to a respectable .289 (11-for-38) in 12 games with the Astros. By factoring in his hitless three at-bats with Boston in May, his cumulative 2010 average currently sits at .268.
It’s evident that he’s earning the trust of Mills on the field, as well as increasing his overall confidence level.
“Everything is starting to come together,” Sanchez said. “It’s the result of working hard and getting the playing time. I’m just trying to do my job.”
Manzella is scheduled to undergo an X-ray Tuesday, with the Astros simply wanting to see the extent of the healing process at the two-week point. With Manzella expected to be sidelined until August, Mills will continue to go with Sanchez.
Hypothetically, if Sanchez continues to produce, he’ll make it difficult for Mills to take him out of the starting lineup in favor of Manzella. Basically, it’s still an open competition for the starting job at shortstop this season.
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