Originally, it was supposed to be Max Scherzer starting on Saturday afternoon, with Aníbal Sánchez going in Sunday’s series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Scherzer’s sore right ankle led the Nationals to push him back to the third of three in Washington, D.C., as skipper Davey Martinez explained on Friday.
“It didn’t affect anything,” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, “... because Sánchez will go on his regular days’ rest.”
Scherzer said he could have gone, but since it’s early in the season, and not much had to changeu, he and the Nats’ brass didn’t see any need to push things.
So it was Sánchez making his third start of the 2019 campaign on Saturday, after back-to-back starts against the Philadelphia Phillies in which the 35-year-old righty allowed 11 hits and seven earned runs combined in 9 2⁄3 IP.
Start No. 3 for Sánchez began with three scoreless innings, but Josh Bell hit a low liner to left with one down in the fourth that Juan Soto dove for but couldn’t catch, resulting in a triple that was followed by an RBI double by Colin Moran, 1-0.
It was tied up at 1-1 in the sixth when Sánchez left a two-out, two-strike (0-2) slider up in the zone to Melky Cabrera, who hit a go-ahead home run into the right field bullpen to make it 2-1 game in the Pirates’ favor.
Sánchez was up to 100 pitches total after he worked around a leadoff single in an 11-pitch top of the seventh, and he left the game with the Nationals still trailing by a run...
Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 Ks, 100 P, 63 S, 8/6 GO/FO.
Wander Suero got the Nationals through a quick, 11-pitch, seven-strike, 1-2-3 eighth to keep it a one-run game, and in the bottom of the eighth inning, Adam Eaton and Howie Kendrick hit back-to-back, two-out home runs off Pirates’ reliever Richard Rodríguez to make it a 3-2 game in the Nats’ favor.
Sean Doolittle locked down the comeback win in the ninth, earning his first save of the year.
After struggling to generate much offense against Bucs’ starter Chris Archer, things turned around quickly, and Sánchez keeping things close through seven innings on the hill ended up being a big help.
Getting through the seventh, the Nats’ skipper told reporters after the game, was a big deal for the pitcher too, considering Sánchez had done it just twice since 2017.
“It was awesome,” Martinez said.
“It was good for him too. I talked to him in-between innings, and he was throwing the ball good. He came out in the seventh throwing 90 [MPH]. And he said he felt good. It was a nice day, cool day, and he looked really good, so I said, ‘Hey, you’re the guy, go get outs,’ and he did.”
Sánchez said he knew he just had to keep it close to give his teammates a chance.
“That’s why I’m going to the mound and fight to keep the score as close as I can,” Sánchez said, as quoted by Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty.
“Because I know we have a chance to wait for the reaction of the team.”
“The boys played well, Aníbal did well, the hits were scarce, but they got the job done. I can’t say enough about the boys,” Martinez added.
“Their at bats were good,” the manager continued, “and Eaton got a pitch up and drove it over the wall, and then Howie comes behind him and just smokes the ball. What Howie’s done since he’s been back has been incredible.”
After going 1 for 2 with the home run and two walks, Kendrick is 6 for 10 with two doubles, two homers, and four walks in seven games since he returned from a hamstring injury that he suffered in Spring Training.
Sánchez put together a solid start, Anthony Rendon, Kurt Suzuki, Eaton, and Kendrick came up with big hits, and Suero and Doolittle contributed to the effort.
Martinez was asked about getting contributions up and down the roster.
“For me that’s what good teams do,” he said, “and these guys, they’re putting themselves aside and they’re playing for each other, I mean that’s what I see in that clubhouse. So on any given day, any one those guys is going to step up and give us a big hit, put us in a big moment, and today was Eaton and Howie, and don’t forget that Aníbal kept us in the ballgame, so that was tremendous.”