While circling the bases Friday afternoon at McKechnie Field, Tony Sanchez felt a tinge of relief.
He kicked off his spring by hitting a three-run home run on the first pitch he saw during the Pirates' intrasquad game at McKechnie, where Team Black and Team Gold played to an eight-inning, 4-4 tie.
Following a year in which he struggled offensively, Sanchez hopes the blast is a harbinger of things to come.
"It was nice to see I could drive the ball again like a man," he said. "Actually, that's the first thing I thought while running the bases...'Oh, there it is. Finally. I waited a year for this."'
Sanchez hit .241 with five home runs in 118 games last year with the Pirates' Double-A affiliate in Altoona. It was a decrease from what he did the following summer, when he batted .314 and homered four times in just 59 games with the high Single-A Marauders.
So Sanchez, a catcher and the Pirates' first-round draft pick in 2009, went back to work in the offseason.
He spent six to seven days a week in the gym, but also worked on his approach in the plate.
"If you're approach isn't there but you're strong, you're not going to hit the ball," Sanchez said. "I took a lot emphasis on the approach aspect, but the fact that what I was doing in the gym helped me get to that ball quicker and not be late on it and not foul it off...that hand speed, it all pays off."
Last year may not have gone the way Sanchez would have wanted, but he thinks it will make him a better player.
"There's things that I learned last year that you don't learn unless you struggle," he said. "Last year, I had a lot of time to think about pitches that I was swinging at and decisions I was making at the plate. I was getting the fastball, I just wasn't swinging at the fastball that I could drive. I was swinging at the pitcher's fastball.
"I got better at it as the year went on, but it was a little too late. Now I'm going to start from the beginning and see where that takes me."