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PREVIEW:Sanchez hopes to be ready

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Burbank grad could miss Pittsburgh's opener; Cirillo, Hirsh hoping for success with new teams.

March 31, 2007|By Jeff Tully and Charles Rich

BURBANK — There are definitely high expectations this season among the three area Major League Baseball players.

Two of the athletes will be looking to again put up fine numbers, while the third hopes to make an impact after a trade.

Leading the way is Burbank High graduate Freddy Sanchez, who won the National League batting crown and led the league in average at .344 and doubles with 53 in 2006.

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Providence High graduate Jeff Cirillo left the Milwaukee Brewers and has landed a job with the Minnesota Twins, a playoff contender. With his new team, the sure-handed infielder is trying to make it to the postseason for the first time in his 14-year pro career.

Jason Hirsh made his debut last summer for the Houston Astros and experienced the thrill of a pennant race. However, the pitcher was dealt in December to the Colorado Rockies as part of a five-player trade.

With the season set to begin Monday, here is a closer look at the area players:

FREDDY SANCHEZ

Sanchez, a Glendale Community College standout, will set out to prove that his statistics from 2006 weren't a fluke. His batting average was the highest season total by a Pirates player since Roberto Clemente hit .345 in 1969.

Sanchez, who previously played for the Boston Red Sox, was also able to avoid elongated slumps last season, hitting six home runs and driving in 85 runs.

In early February, Sanchez agreed with the Pirates on a one-year contract worth $2.75 million.

However, the biggest question now for Sanchez is not whether he will again put up big numbers, but instead will he be healthy for the beginning of the season?

He sprained his right knee during an exhibition game in early March and competed in minor-league games while rehabilitating. Sanchez participated in several exhibition games last week but might begin the season on the disabled list.

On Tuesday, it was reveled that there is no damage to his right knee, other than a previously diagnosed sprained ligament. Sanchez said although he is resigned to missing opening day, he hopes to return to the lineup some time next week.

"I'll go out and go as hard as I can," Sanchez told the Associated Press. "If I've got to play with a little bit of pain and discomfort, so be it, as long as I know it's not going to get any worse. ... I play the game with no fear, I like to do a lot of things with no fear and you can't be cautious."

JEFF CIRILLO

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