Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Alex Sanchez yesterday became the first player to test positive for a performance-enhancing drug under baseball's new steroid program.
Sanchez -- who was suddenly released by the Detroit Tigers in the middle of spring training -- had expected to be the Devil Rays' starting center fielder. He will be suspended for the first 10 games of the season.
"I'm going to fight it," said outfielder Alex Sanchez, "because I've never taken steroids or anything like that."
(Duane Burleson -- AP)
_____From The Post_____
Yankees throttle champion Red Sox, 9-2, in season opener Sunday.
Devil Rays' Alex Sanchez receives 10-day suspension after failing illegal substance test.
Sidney Ponson finishes spring training strong for the Orioles.
"We're not messing around now," said Baltimore Orioles first baseman Jay Gibbons, the team's representative to the players' union. "Just the public perception that every time he goes to the plate, people will say he's a cheater. You knew it was going to happen, you knew they would catch somebody."
A source with knowledge of the situation said it is probable that the positive test came when Sanchez was still with Detroit since time was needed for the league to verify the positive result. Once verification came, the league called the Devil Rays and also notified the MLB Players Association, which called Sanchez.
Sanchez told the Associated Press that he uses milkshakes and multivitamins to build his energy and blamed the positive test on something he bought over the counter.
"I'm going to fight it, because I've never taken steroids or anything like that," Sanchez said.
Sanchez seems an unlikely candidate to test positive for steroids. He has just four career home runs and a .292 batting average. His strength is his speed: He stole 52 bases in 2003 and has 114 career steals in part-time duty over the past four seasons.
Sanchez escaped Cuba on a raft when he was 18. He played at Miami-Dade Community College before being drafted by the Devil Rays nine years ago. Now 28, he was reunited with his mother and brother only days before the Tigers cut him.
Asked about the suspension, Tampa Bay Manager Lou Piniella said, "It's surprising." Then he cited league rules requiring silence on all steroid-related issues and declined further comment.
"You think it would be less than last year since the penalties are tougher," Gibbons said. "You would think guys would smarten up. Hopefully it's just one, realistically it will probably be a few more."
Staff writer Jorge Arangure Jr. contributed to this report.