Since returning from a stint on the Injured List for a hamstring injury on May 29th, Aníbal Sánchez was unbeaten in five starts heading into last night’s outing, with a 2.45 ERA and a .198/.239/.330 line against in 29 1⁄3 innings pitched.
Sánchez has been more like the pitcher he was in 2018 over that stretch, turning his season around after a rough start to the first year of the 2-year/$19M deal he signed this winter.
What’s been different for Sánchez since he returned to the rotation?
“I think that when he’s come off the [IL] he’s strengthened his core muscles and his lower body and I think that you’re seeing the effects of it right now,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies earlier this month.
“His command is much, much better, and he’s a pitcher that’s reliant on [having] pinpoint accuracy with all of his pitches, and he’s inducing the soft contact that we saw the last couple years, and I think he’s becoming the pitcher that we envisioned him [being] when we signed him.”
The 35-year-old, 14-year veteran was, however, coming off a less-than-stellar outing against the Atlanta Braves in which he gave up six hits and four runs in six innings on the mound in what ended up a 13-9 loss in which he received no decision.
Facing the Tigers for the first time in his career, in his 69th start and 80th appearance in Comerica Park where he pitched for Detroit from 2012-17 going (27-23) overall, with a 4.13 ERA in 432 IP, Sánchez tossed 4 2⁄3 scoreless on Friday before Nick Castellanos hit a first-pitch fastball out to center field for a solo home run that made it a 2-1 game in the visiting team’s favor.
Sánchez returned to the mound in the sixth and worked around a single in a 17-pitch frame which ended his outing after 110 pitches total, a season-high for the veteran starter.
Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 Ks, 1 HR, 110 P, 73 S, 7/1 GO/FO.
“Great outing from Sanchez,” Martinez said after a 3-1 win.
“His pitch count was a little up, but he was adamant that he could go out and go finish the sixth inning, and we got him to 110 pitches, and I think that was the most this year, but he did really well.”
Tigers’ hittters had opportunities, with seven runners reaching base while Sánchez was on the mound, but the home team went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position against the Nationals’ starter, and were 0 for 9 with RISP and nine left on base overall on the night.
“When he’s down [in the zone] he’s really, really good,” Martinez said when asked about the starter’s ability to work out of any trouble that arises.
“He got one ball up today to Castellanos, but when he’s down he’s really good.”
“That’s the thing that helps me get out of those situations,” Sánchez told reporters in Detroit, “... is executing every pitch that I’m going to throw.
“I prepare my game, I can say so far, really well, and when those situations come, that’s what [catcher Kurt] Suzuki and I — we prepared for the game, using the pitch that we have to use when we have to, you know in the hard situations, like runner on third or second, no out, so now we have to pitch, we have to execute every single pitch that he’s going to call and I’m going to throw, and we try to put everything on the same page and I think we got the guys in the right position.”
Asked what he thought was different for him after he struggled in his first nine starts (0-6, 5.10 ERA, .263.353.463 line against in 42 1⁄3 IP), Sánchez said he’s doing the same thing and getting better results.
“I’ve just been working the same before the injury and after,” he explained.
“I think everything is coming out good right now, I’m just trying to not give up any kind of situation. Attack the hitter for me is the key since I’ve come off the IL and it’s been working.”