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Aníbal Sánchez talks 2018 adjustments; joining the Nationals’ impressive rotation + more...

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In an MLB Network Radio interview last week, Aníbal Sánchez talked about what he changed in 2018 and deciding to join the Nationals’ rotation...

Photo © @Nationals on the Twitter...

According to a report by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal last week, Aníbal Sánchez received a three-year offer from the Oakland A’s before deciding to take a 2-year/$19M deal to join the Washington Nationals’ rotation, though the contract with the Nationals does include a club option for a third season in 2021 (at $12M).

“The exact terms of the A’s proposal are not known,” Rosenthal wrote, “... but the proximity of Washington, D.C., to Sánchez’s home in South Florida was a factor in his decision. (The Nationals also train in West Palm Beach, while the Athletics are in Mesa, [Arizona].)”

Sánchez confirmed that he had a few offers, without going into details about the Athletics’, when he spoke with MLB Network Radio hosts Steve Phillips and Eduardo Perez last week.

“It was really close at the end,” Sánchez said, “but the thing is that both can be contenders.”

“It’s no doubt [the Nationals] are a contender for the playoffs,” he continued.

“So for my age, I’m looking for a team that can win a World Series and thank God that I got the opportunity with Washington, they’re really a contender for that situation.”

In addition to the fact that he thinks the Nationals are a serious postseason contender, the 35-year-old righty, who had a bounce-back campaign in Atlanta in 2018 after a few rough years in Detroit, said he was excited to be reunited with catcher Kurt Suzuki, after working with the veteran backstop last season while both were with the Braves.

Suzuki was the first pitcher who caught me in Spring Training with the Braves,” Sánchez explained, “and you know after that, I think I’ve known Suzuki for a while, pitched against him when he was with Minnesota, and I think the experience that he got behind the plate — we made really good game plans every five days when I pitched, so when you’ve got that kind of relationship between pitcher and catcher, and get a couple outings, so he knows already what I’m going to throw, especially in any situation, he starts to know what kind of pitcher I am, and, you know, believed in what I can do no matter if we’re behind in the count, and we can throw what kind of pitch, either go in, go out, so he’s — besides that, he frames guys really, really good, so at the end we created a really good relationship between pitcher and catcher.”

In a conference call with reporters after the deal with the Nats was announced, Sánchez said his resurgence last season had a lot to do with Suzuki’s presence behind the plate.

“Suzuki was involved in everything,” he said. “In every change that I made, every sequence that we worked for, Suzuki was really involved.”

The recent adjustments, including in his pitch selection, saw a significant decrease in Sánchez’s fastball usage (38%, down from 57.2% in 2016 and 48.8% in 2017) and slider usage (down to 5.4% from 13.8% in ‘16 and 11.6% in ‘17), with an increase in cutter (22.5% up from 3.1% and 8.7% in the previous two seasons) and off-speed usage (with the righty throwing his changeup a total of 24.9% of the time up from 16.8% and 20.9%).

The adjustments made with the Braves, Sánchez said, came after less successful changes as he struggled between 2015-17 with the Tigers.

“For those years that I struggled, it’s too many changes that I did,” Sánchez said. “Especially [the changes] that I made at Spring Training 2016, we worked on something different in my mechanics, and since that moment I’ve never thrown a single start — or I can continue to do it the same for a while, so every outing I changed something, I’m working on something different and I never stayed in the same position, so at the end, nobody can be successful if you change everything every game, and going back and forth between the bullpen and rotation, it started getting worse for me.”

“I remember in 2017, I think I had a really good Spring Training, but I started the season in the bullpen and I didn’t pitch like 10 innings in three months, so I don’t think it helped me to be good on the mound.”

He actually threw 21 innings over the first three months that season, in 11 appearances, but his point was they were inconsistent appearances.

“At the end, just working, preparation and being consistent in what I’d been doing before 2016, that’s what give me the results for 2018,” Sánchez said, “because at the end, for a player, or I think for any athlete, you need to be the same whether you’re doing good or bad, but if you continue to do it the same, the adjustment you have to do is probably just sequence, location, but when you’re working so much on the mechanics, day in, day out, it’s really hard to be focused every five games, especially for me every five days, to just be thinking, ‘I just needed location,’ now I think, ‘I need to stay back,’ ‘I can’t rotate too much,’ ‘My eyes down, my eyes low,’ ‘Move to the third base side, move to the first base side,’ so when you put a lot of thoughts in your mind the day that you pitch it’s really hard to get good games.”

In 2018, Sánchez put up a 2.83 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, 42 walks (2.77 BB/9), 135 Ks (8.89 K/9) and a .213/.278/.354 line against in 136 23 IP, surrendering 15 home runs total, his fewest since he was in Detroit in 2014.

As the Nationals noted in a press release on the signing, among National League pitchers who made at least 24 starts last season, “Sánchez ranked sixth in ERA (2.83), seventh in opponents’ batting average (.213), ninth in opponent on-base percentage (.278), ninth in WHIP (1.08), and tenth in opponent slugging percentage (.354),” and, “he allowed the fifth-fewest home runs (15) and issued the ninth-fewest walks (42),” among NL pitchers.

Sánchez, the Nationals added, “... was strong against left-handed batters in 2018, holding them to a .191/.279/.294 slash line. His .294 opponent slugging percentage against left-handed batters was the best among National League right-handed starting pitchers, while his .191 opponent average was good for third.”

If he can come close to reproducing those results, in a rotation that includes Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals’ rotation is going to be impressive.

“There’s no doubt how good that rotation is with those three guys,” Sanchez said.

“Being there, you just try to help. They’ve got a strong rotation. They’ve got one of the best pitchers in the major leagues right now in Max Scherzer. I saw Scherzer in Detroit, how competitive he is, and I think everything that he’s doing right now is because for many years he competed so much, he’s working at how good he can be every five days, and he got the opportunity to be that kind of pitcher and he made it. Most of the people working for something, but they don’t make that step, but I think Scherzer, he did. Being in that rotation, I don’t want to say I feel relaxed about it, but I want to be close to those guys to keep the rotation strong.”