Ready, Freddy?


BRADENTON, Fla. — Freddy Sanchez has not played in a game since March 6, when he sprained his right knee while turning a double play at second base. At the time, the official diagnosis was a slight MCL sprain and Sanchez was listed as day-to-day.

With less than a week to go before the Pirates break camp, there is serious doubt whether Sanchez will be ready to start the season. Even if gets back in the lineup tomorrow (and there’s been no indication that will happen), can the defending NL batting champ fine-tune his swing in six games and be ready to step in against Roy Oswalt in the opener?

If Sanchez can’t go, Jose Bautista would open the season as the starting second baseman — which is exactly where some folks think he should have been all along. Castillo is probably better suited to handle the contact at second base, which is his natural position. The Castillo-Bautista battle this spring was a photo finish — similar batting stats, similar results in the field.

Castillo started at second base today against Tampa Bay. He was charged with an error for dropping a pop-fly, but it hardly was a routine play. Castillo had to sprint into shallow right field and try to make an over-the-shoulder catch on the run.

Castillo has started every game at second base since Friday, when manager Jim Tracy announced Castillo would begin the season as a bench utility player. That tells me that nobody is betting on Sanchez being ready to start the season.

The player who crashed into Sanchez, causing the injury, was Rod Barajas of the Phillies. “I feel terrible … but I’m wired to play the game one way, and that’s hard,” Barajas said later. Maybe, but it was just an exhibition game in early March, after all.

The Pirates play the Phillies July 27-29 in Philly and Aug. 17-19 at PNC Park. It will be interesting to see if any of Sanchez’s teammates have long memories when Barajas steps up to the plate.