Sanchez, Whiteside reunited after long, winding paths
Pitcher, catcher teamed up for no-hitter with Giants in 2009; NRIs with Cubs
MESA, Ariz. -- They have yet to play catch. Jonathan Sanchez has had a different catcher for each bullpen session. On Thursday, the lefty threw his first live batting-practice session and John Baker was the catcher.
The Cubs may want to make sure Eli Whiteside is behind the plate every time Sanchez throws.
The Sanchez and Whiteside combo is well known among Giants fans. On July 10, 2009, the left-handed pitcher threw a no-hitter in an 8-0 victory over the Padres. Bengie Molina was supposed to catch that game, but his wife went into labor, and Whiteside was behind the plate.
Now, the two are reunited as non-roster invitees with the Cubs.
"We just looked at the roster and saw each other and now we're here," Sanchez said. "We started making jokes."
"It's been a while," Whiteside said. "I've seen him the past couple years along the way, playing against him in Triple-A and that kind of stuff. This is the first time I've been on the same team with him since then."
They've traveled different paths since that historic game. Sanchez had made two brief relief appearances prior to the start, yet was able to throw 110 pitches in what is still his only complete game and only shutout in eight Major League seasons. The lefty finished that season 8-12 with 29 starts and 32 appearances, and made 19 starts the next year, striking out 200 for the first time in his career.
He was traded in November 2011 to the Royals for Melky Cabrera, then dealt in July 2012 to the Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie. Last season, Sanchez, 31, made more starts at Triple-A Albuquerque (14) than he did in the big leagues (four).
"He's always had great stuff," Whiteside said of Sanchez. "It's just trying to put it all together. It seems like he does it every now and then. He's obviously got the stuff. I think it's just that -- just putting it all together."
Whiteside, 34, made his Major League debut in 2005 with the Orioles, and appeared in nine games that season. He didn't get called back to the big leagues until '09 with the Giants, who signed him as a free agent in May 2008. He opened '09 at Triple-A Fresno but was called up when an elbow injury sidelined Pablo Sandoval, then a catcher.
After the no-hitter, Whiteside's other highs that season included a grand slam, his first Major League home run, off the Astros' Brian Moehler on Aug. 5. In 2010, for the first time in his career, Whiteside made the Giants' Opening Day roster. He batted .238 in 73 games and was on the World Series roster but did not appear in any of the games.
When Buster Posey's season ended early in May 2011 because of a leg injury, Whiteside split time behind the plate with Chris Stewart.
In 2012, he was claimed by the Yankees, then designated for assignment to make room on the roster for Andy Pettitte. The Blue Jays claimed him, and nine days later, he was claimed by the Rangers, who designated him for assignment the next month. He was a non-roster invitee last spring with Texas, and spent the entire season at Triple-A Round Rock.
Somehow, after all the roster moves and bus rides and changes in uniform, Sanchez and Whiteside are together again. They haven't been paired up this spring. Not yet.
"I'm sure I'll catch him here before too long," Whiteside said.
The Cubs are counting on Welington Castillo as their regular catcher, and signed George Kottaras to be the backup. Whiteside is insurance.
Sanchez could be another left-handed option for the bullpen.
"They were looking for lefties," Sanchez said of the Cubs. "They want me for a reason. I'm just going to go out there and do my job and try to make the team."
They both know how special that July day was.
"There's a lot of guys who have caught a lot of games and been in the big leagues a long time and never had the opportunity to catch a no-hitter," Whiteside said. "They said at the time how many games I'd caught in the big leagues before that and it wasn't a whole lot. It was pretty special, too. His dad was there. It was pretty cool."
He'd only caught 23 big league games before Sanchez's no-hitter.
"I had come back from the bullpen to be a starter, and it just happened that was my day," Sanchez said. "That was a lucky day. There are going to be days when you start a game and you don't have your slider and you don't have the same command. Those are the days you get lucky and everything goes your way."
The lefty had a perfect game going into the eighth, but an error by Juan Uribe allowed the only baserunner of the game. Sanchez struck out 11 and did not walk a batter. Plus, that day, his father, Sigfredo, who had never seen his son start a Major League game, was in attendance.
"Every time I pitched with Whiteside behind the plate, I did good," Sanchez said. "Every game I pitched with Whiteside, they were good games."
Hopefully, the two get matched up again this spring.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.