GLENDALE — For the second time in as many years, a veteran major leaguer with local ties has retired. Just as St. Francis High graduate Mark Loretta hung up his cleats before the 2010 season, Loretta's former high school teammate and Glendale resident Gregg Zaun called it a career in early March after 16 years in the big leagues.
As Opening Day approaches on Thursday, the number of area products set to occupy major league rosters has dwindled to its lowest number in years.
Crescenta Valley High product Trevor Bell figures to be back up with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sooner than later, but will begin the season in the minor leagues and Glendale Community College product Marco Estrada has an outside shot at cracking the Milwaukee Brewers' Opening Day roster after impressing as an invitee from minor league camp.
But as it currently stands, the area will be represented by a trio of players — one looking to build on a resurgent year, another looking to make a comeback and one looking to defend the biggest prize in the game.
SANCHEZ SET FOR
It might not have been evident in his solid overall statistics or the valuable role he played in helping the San Francisco Giants beat the Texas Rangers to capture their first World Series title since 1954, but Freddy Sanchez was far from full strength last year.
Dealing with the residual effects of preseason left-shoulder surgery, which caused him to miss the first 38 games of the 2010 campaign, Sanchez told mlb.com that last year his left arm wasn't strong enough to bench press a five-pound dumbbell.
It's a different story this spring for the Burbank High graduate and former Glendale college standout, who last year became the first area player to compete in a World Series since Zaun did so with the Florida Marlins in 1997.
Despite an arthroscopic procedure on his shoulder in December, the ninth-year man was healthy enough to make his spring debut on time on Feb. 24 and has posted a .269 (11 for 49) batting average with two home runs, seven runs batted in and five extra-base hits in 15 games played.
Now, the key is staying healthy and staying on the field, a prospect Sanchez, who won the National League batting title in 2006, feels good about.
"If you feel good and you feel strong and you feel confident, you take that out onto the field," Sanchez, who was traded to the Giants from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009, told mlb.com. "Last year, I went out and played with what I had. …So, I feel like I'm ahead dramatically."
Sanchez, who batted .292 with seven home runs, 47 RBIs and 55 runs scored last year, will man second base for the Giants once again this year and will likely return to the No. 2 spot in the batting order when the team kicks off its season at 5:00 p.m. Thursday against the host Los Angeles Dodgers.
WAY INTO A'S PLANS
His most recent spring outing notwithstanding, Glendale native Brandon McCarthy has made big strides toward a career resurgence with his new club, the Oakland Athletics.
After battling shoulder and elbow problems for much of his career and being out of the majors last season, the 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher is considered to have the inside track on pinning down the fifth spot in Oakland's starting rotation. He posted a 1-0 record with a 3.05 earned-run average over his first five appearances in spring training, including starting two games, both of which were quality starts.
"At this point, it's just pitching," McCarthy told mlb.com on Friday of his focus. "Any role, anything, I'm going to do the same thing, whether it's here or the Mexican League or the bullpen. I'm just going to focus on pitching."
McCarthy hadn't issued a walk all spring in 20 2/3 innings until his start Friday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in which he was roughed up for six earned runs on seven hits and one walk in 5 1/3 innings en route to taking a loss in the 10-3 affair.
But A's manager Bob Geren told mlb.com on Friday that McCarthy's one shaky outing won't outweigh his previous strong performances when it comes to deciding between McCarthy and other top candidates for the rotation, Tyson Ross and Bobby Cramer.
"We'll look at everything, the whole body of work," Geren said. "He's had a great spring."
In limited time with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Redhawks last season, McCarthy, who was once considered a top prospect in the Chicago White Sox organization, went 4-2 with a 3.36 ERA. The Texas Rangers, whom McCarthy joined in 2007, sent McCarthy outright to the minors following the end of last season and he refused the assignment, becoming a free agent.
McCarthy signed a one-year $1 million contract with Oakland in December that contains further incentives for health and performance.
Even if McCarthy fails to win a spot in the rotation, he appears to be a lock to be on the 25-man roster when Oakland opens its season at 7:05 p.m. PDT on Friday at home against the Seattle Mariners.
SLATEN LOOKS TO
As a key component of the Washington Nationals' bullpen last season, former Glendale college pitcher Doug Slaten had one of the most productive seasons of his five-year major league career, posting career highs in innings pitched (40 2/3), wins (four) and strikeouts (36), while compiling a 3.10 ERA, his lowest since 2007, when he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
As the Nationals, who finished last in the National League East Division last season, prepare to break camp this spring, Slaten looks poised to pick up where he left off last year, with a 1-0 record, a 2.53 ERA and an 8:0 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over 10 2/3 innings.
As one of just two left-handers currently on the 25-man roster, Slaten, who signed a one-year deal for $695,000 in January, figures to continue to get plenty of work once the season begins at 1:05 p.m. on Thursday against the visiting Atlanta Braves.