There were nights last summer when Jake Sanchez hung up the phone and wondered if he was really doing the right thing. His wife, Amanda, was home raising their young daughter, Zoe, as Sanchez held out some small hope of attracting a Major League scout to see him pitch.
He dreamed of nights like Friday in Rome.
"That was going to be my last season. I have a daughter and wife back home, I can't be playing indy ball the rest of my life with a daughter at home," Sanchez said. "I said, 'If I don't get picked up, this will be my last year.'"
But Sanchez, pitching for the Joliet Slammers of the independent Frontier League, got his wish. The White Sox were interested.
"My wife said, 'OK, if that's what you want to do.' She was real supportive, she was excited. It was exciting," Sanchez said. "I was happy somebody would take a chance on me, so I've got to make the most of it."
A year later, Sanchez knows he's where he belongs. Dialed in with his catcher in his first Class A start, he recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts and extended his season-opening scoreless streak to 18 1/3 innings, allowing one hit over six frames as Kannapolis rolled to a 12-2 win.
"It felt good, especially coming into the rotation after being out in the bullpen, I've just got to praise God for that," Sanchez said. "It was easy for me to throw tonight. My catcher, Jeremy Dowdy, we were on the same page all night; I didn't shake him off once. It was great to be in a groove with our catcher."
Sanchez gushed about his connection with Dowdy, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs.
"I gave him a hug," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I went up to him right after and said, 'Hey, that was a hell of a game you called. I know they'll want to talk to me, but they don't know I didn't shake you off once all night."
Sanchez, the reigning Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year, limited Rome to a two-out double by Vic Caratini in the second inning and a two-out walk to Dan Carroll in the sixth in his first start since Sept. 3 for Rookie-level Great Falls. The 10 strikeouts eclipsed by one his previous career high, established on July 14 against Grand Junction.
"Dowdy made it easy for me, we were on the same page from pitch one. A lot of the strikeouts were on fastballs, he had those guys thinking so much," Sanchez said. "I only threw three changeups and not too many sliders, it was just the fastball in and out. We were on the same page, it was a great feeling."
The Iowa Wesleyan product had appeared in six games this season, all in relief. Out of the bullpen, he was 2-0 with 15 strikeouts and five walks in 12 1/3 scoreless innings.
"It was planned for me to be out of the bullpen, but we had a starter get moved up," he said. "I couldn't tell you why I got moved into the rotation, maybe because I started all last year, maybe that had something to do with it. But I'm just going to roll with it."
Sanchez (3-0) struck out Carroll, the first batter he faced, and fanned six over the first three innings. He worked a 1-2-3 fourth, struck out two in the fifth and racked two more strikeouts to start the sixth, retiring Eric Garcia on a fly ball to left to end his night following his lone walk.
Kannapolis gave its starter a lead in the first when leadoff man Adam Engel singled and scored on a fielder's choice by Danny Hayes. Cleuluis Rondon also singled and scored on Jake Morris' two-out base hit.
"I've got to praise God. I'm big man a faith, I'm blessed with the ability to throw and with the arm I have," Sanchez said. "We have a great team, that makes it a lot easier. They make the plays and with the catching we've had, it's been pretty solid."
Sanchez went 6-3 with a 2.87 ERA in 14 starts after signing with the White Sox last year. Friday's win could help his odds of staying in the Intimidators rotation, but he's content either way.
"I never really minded going to the bullpen. I've been told by coaches I would do well. I don't mind either or, I get to play the game of baseball, so whatever will extend my career, they know more than I do," he said. "I just do what's needed."
As for his family, Sanchez knows he made his fans back home happy on Friday.
"They try to come out, but it's tough with my little one, she's only 3," he said. "They try to make one trip a year. It gets tough at times being away -- I go home and she's a new person every time I see her. But I have a great support system back home."