Sanchez 'leaving everything else behind'

Updated: April 15, 2005, 10:37 AM ET
Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Alex Sanchez returned from a 10-day suspension for violating baseball's new policy on performance-enchancing drugs Thursday and was in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' lineup against the Baltimore Orioles.

Alex Sanchez

The first player to be disciplined under the tougher rules had two hits and scored a run for Tampa Bay in its 12-7 victory over Baltimore. There was hardly any reaction from the small crowd at Tropicana Field when Sanchez, who started in center field and batted third, came to the plate in the first inning and hit into a force play.

Sanchez missed eight games during the suspension, which began April 4 -- the day Tampa Bay opened the season against the Toronto Blue Jays. He lost $32,787 of his $600,000 salary and is eager to put behind him the stigma of being the first player publicly cited for failing a drug test under the stricter guidelines.

"I'm done with my suspension, so now I'm just focused on playing baseball. I'm leaving everything else behind," said Sanchez, who was tested during spring training while he was with the Detroit Tigers.

The 29-year-old, who has just four career homers in the majors, blamed his positive test on a supplement he bought over the counter before Jan. 15, when it was made a controlled substance.

This week, Colorado Rockies outfielder Jorge Piedra became the second player identified under the stricter rules and began serving a 10-day suspension.

Under the new policy that took effect last month, steroids and other performance-enchancing substances are the only drugs to draw a 10-day suspension. Baseball officials and the players' union agreed they would not disclose the exact substance for which a player tests positive.

Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said he expected fans to welcome Sanchez back.

"He's not a household name. He's a developing major league player. ... I think he's been positive in his comments. I think there's been remorse in his comments," Piniella said.

"It's not like he has to defend that he hit 55 home runs last year or anything. He made a mistake. He paid for it and now let's leave the kid alone and let him play baseball."

Sanchez led the American League with 29 bunt singles and hit .322 in 79 games for Detroit last season. He signed with the Devil Rays last month after being released by the Tigers and was to be Tampa Bay's Opening Day center fielder.

"I lost a lot of playing time. Now I have to work harder than before to get myself ready," Sanchez said. "A lot of my teammates told me they're happy to see me in the lineup tonight."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press