Barry Zito

Not time to replace Sanchez yet…but it’s getting close

How much can the Giants get for Jonathan Sanchez now? A 36-year-old Triple-A designated hitter? A Costco box of assorted flavor sunflower seeds (mmm, BBQ)? The rights to Sammy Sosa’s 2003 drug testing sample?

It’s amazing that everyone’s so ready to get rid of Sanchez, as if the rest of baseball has no idea what he’s been doing or who he is. And Sanchez has shown himself to be a quintessential fifth starter, which means he’s a couple awful starts away from the bullpen and/or minor leagues.

One needs to be a complete pitcher to be an effective starter, and Sanchez obviously isn’t. He’s tough to hit when he’s wild, so the idea was that if he could keep his walks down he’d be one of the top young lefties in the National League. Then last night he walked no one and gave up 10 hits and 7 runs in 3.2 innings to the Angels, just like Barry Zito the night before.

(Of course, it didn’t help that the Giants could only score 1 run off Angels starter Sean O’Sullivan, who made his Major League debut last night after going 5-2 with an ERA over 6 in Triple-A.)

However, even with the Wildcard a huge temptation, it is not the time to make a knee-jerk reaction. As poorly as Sanchez has pitched this season, it’s tough to pinpoint a better alternative anywhere else.

Madison Bumgarner or Tim Alderson? Sounds enticing, but even Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain spent some time in Triple-A before reaching the Major Leagues. Forcing either prospect to make the jump from Double-A to the Giants, with this offense especially, would have the potential to completely derail what progress they’ve already made.

Kevin Pucetas is Fresno’s best starting pitcher right now (6-2, 3.40 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), but he is hardly overpowering (5.6 K/9). Right now he’s like the backup quarterback, looking like a fantastic alternative to the current struggling fifth starter even though Sanchez would probably dominate the Pacific Coast League with his skills.

Although with O’Sullivan carving up the Giants last night, the temptation to see what Pucetas can bring to the table has to be strong this morning. What the Giants need to remember is that Pucetas won’t get to face the Giants’ lineup in his debut.

While Sanchez should get at least a couple more turns in the rotation to see if he can work things out (or rescue his rapidly sinking trade value), Mike Krukow feels strongly that Sanchez is destined for the bullpen.

In the end, Krukow may be right. Sanchez is like a lefty Julian Tavarez (only without the, um, harsh facial qualities). Like the man his teammates called “Swamp Thing,” Sanchez will probably bounce from the bullpen to the rotation throughout his career, with a career that spans much longer than anybody figured it would and frustrating fans, managers and pitching coaches throughout the way.

In the end, the Giants will probably call up Pucetas either this week or after Sanchez’s next start, unless Sanchez pulls a great start out of his bumgarner. The way the Giants sent Emmanuel Burriss down after his 0-for-27 slump shows the Giants aren’t willing to live and die with the youngsters, not with waning ticket sales and playoff contention seemingly around the corner, and there are no solid candidates in the bullpen ready to take Sanchez’s fifth starter spot.

Sanchez looks like he’s dying out there, almost like he needs to take a personal day or eight. After getting pulled last night, Dave Flemming said, “Sanchez is pacing the dugout, looking lost.” With Sanchez’s awful body language, I wouldn’t blame the Giants for wanting to make a change just for the sake of making a change.

Still, if the Giants do replace Sanchez with Pucetas or (cringe) a guy like Ramon Ortiz, don’t be surprised if Sanchez finds himself back in the rotation at some point this season. Not because he’s an amazing fifth starter whom the rest of the league covets, but because sadly, he’s still the best option.

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