The first year of Aníbal Sánchez’s 2-year/$19M free agent deal with Washington’s Nationals didn’t get off to a good start, with the 35-year-old, 14-year veteran (0-6) over his first nine outings with a 5.10 ERA, 25 walks, 41 Ks, and a .263/.353/.463 line against in 42 1⁄3 IP, but after a short time off for a hamstring injury, he bounced back, going (11-2) in his final 21 regular season starts, with a 3.42 ERA, 33 walks, 93 strikeouts, and a .227/.282/.386 line against over 123 2⁄3 IP from late May on.
In two postseason starts before tonight, Sánchez was (1-0) with a 0.71 ERA, three walks, 14 Ks, and a .116/.208/.209 line against in two starts and 12 2⁄3 IP, giving up a run on four hits over five innings on the mound in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, before tossing 7 2⁄3 scoreless in Game 1 of the NLCS with the St. Louis Cardinals, taking a no-hit bid into the eighth inning.
Sánchez dismissed concerns about the fact that he’d had 14 days off between the start against St. Louis and last night’s outing against the Houston Astros.
“Back to the outing when I threw against Dodgers, was the same amount of day that I didn’t pitch before that day,” Sánchez explained.
“I threw against Phillies two weeks before that game so now we understand the same amount of days.
“I just think most of the time — like right now probably — you need to rest because I’ve been throwing baseball since February, probably January. So right now it’s not something that’s going to affect you.
“So for me, I’m fine with the rest.”
Sánchez didn’t look particularly sharp early, and some shoddy play behind him helped the Astros get out to a 2-0 lead with runs in the second and third innings, but he held it there through four, and the Nationals cut the lead in half with a run off Zack Greinke in the home-half of the fourth inning, 2-1.
José Altuve, who doubled, took third on a Juan Soto error, and scored the Astros’ second run, added another in the top of the fifth, doubling and coming around on the second RBI single by Michael Brantley to make it 3-1 after four and a half.
Robinson Chirinos bounced a first-pitch sinker off the left field foul one with out in the top of the sixth, 4-1, and a walk to pinch hitter Kyle Tucker in the next at bat ended Sánchez’s outing...
Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 93 P, 57 S, 4/2 GO/FO.
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez was asked after the loss if he’d considered hitting for Sánchez early, when the Nationals scored a run with Ryan Zimmerman walking and scoring on Victor Robles’ RBI triple, but the manager left Sánchez in to hit and he fouled off a two-strike pitch trying to bunt before Trea Turner grounded out to end the inning with the Astros still up, 2-1.
“I seriously thought about it, yeah,” Martinez explained. “But you know what, I like the way Sánchez was pitching, he’s only had 60 pitches.
“I thought the way things were going, like I said, we put the ball in play, just couldn’t put the ball in play with runners in scoring position.
“I thought 2-1 the game was still fairly close. Like I say, I liked the way Sánchez was pitching at that point.”
“Today I feel good early in the game,” Sánchez told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr.
“I missed a couple pitches against those guys, Altuve he hit pretty well, and Brantley. In those spots, they were able to score runs. The pitch that I miss more (was) against Chirinos. He put a really good swing on it. (With) those guys, one of the things you can’t miss, especially when I can’t locate my pitch in the corners. That’s when they able to hit (me) pretty good.”
It didn’t help Sánchez that home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom wasn’t giving him calls at the bottom of the zone, which is a polite way of saying the ump missed calls on a number of low strikes that were called balls, though the pitcher wouldn’t say it...
“For me, I never talk about any umpires,” Sánchez explained. “[They’re] humans. They can [make] mistakes, they can make some calls, but everything that happen today is not the umpire’s fault.
“If I had execute my pitch better, I have to do it,” he added. “I’m not going to say everything happen because I didn’t get that call there. The pitch was close in the strike zone, but at the end, it’s no big deal.”
“For me, it’s tough,” Sánchez added. “When I don’t have the location or I don’t have the call on the corners, I have to throw more in the strike zone.”