Aníbal Sánchez bounced back from a rather rough nine-start stretch that started his 2019 campaign, (over which he went 0-6 with a 5.10 ERA, 25 walks, 41 Ks, and a .263/.353/.463 line against in 42 1⁄3 innings pitched), with a strong seven-outing run which followed a 13-day stint on the 10-Day Injured List for a hamstring strain, (over which he went 5-0 with a 2.18 ERA, eight walks, 24 Ks, and a .206/.253/.348 line against in 41 1⁄3 innings).
GM Mike Rizzo said that Sánchez was dealing with a hamstring problem for a while before he ended up on the IL, but the 35-year-old, 14-year veteran said he was doing all the same things in the successful stretch that he was doing while he struggled with different results.
“I’ve just been working the same before the injury and after. 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,” Sánchez explained.
Sánchez’s revival gives the Nationals a strong top four in the rotation, with Max Scherzer (who is on the IL now), Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin going strong, but skipper Davey Martinez said the eldest member of the Nats’ rotation put himself in the conversation with the Nats’ other arms with the way he’s been pitching since the time off.
“Everybody talks about Stras, Max, and Corbin, but since Aníbal has come off the IL, he’s been really, really good, and I love him,” Martinez said. “He’s a great guy, he wants the ball, wants to pitch every five days, and he competes, and watching him last year against us all year, and then seeing him now, he’s a competitor, and he doesn’t quit, and he keeps fighting, and like I said, he keeps us in ballgames.”
Sánchez was (7-6) in 25 games and 24 starts as part of the Atlanta Braves’ rotation in 2018, with a 2.83 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, 42 walks (2.77 BB/9), and 135 Ks (8.89 K/9) in 136 2⁄3 innings, and a .211/.278/.359 line against in 133 2⁄3 IP as a starter.
Heading into Sunday’s start against the Phillies, Sánchez’s strong run to end the first half of the 2019 campaign left him at (5-6) after 16 starts, with a 3.66 ERA, a 4.53 FIP, 33 walks, and 75 Ks in 83 2⁄3 IP, over which he had a .236/.308/.409 line against.
He tossed three scoreless to start in Citizens Bank Park, but a leadoff double by Jean Segura and two-out RBI single by J.T. Realmuto tied things up at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth, a half-inning after the Nationals jumped out to a lead.
Sánchez almost worked his way out of a two-on, no-out jam in the fifth, but Segura got him again, with a two-out RBI line drive to right that put the Phillies on top, 2-1, and Realmuto hit an 0-2 cutter out the other way in the bottom of the sixth to make it a 3-1 game with his 11th home run of the season.
Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 Ks, 1 HR, 88 P, 52 S, 2/7 GO/FO.
Sánchez received no decision in what ended up a 4-3, walk-off loss, when the Nationals tied it up at 3-3 in the seventh, a half-inning after the starter was done for the day.
“We battled back,” Martinez said after the loss. “We were down, we battled back, Sánchez kept us in the game, come here and win two out of three, day off, go back, go to Baltimore and try to win that first game.”
Before he gave up the final run of his outing in the sixth, Sánchez avoided a big inning in the bottom of the fifth, getting a bases-loaded fly to left from Rhys Hoskins to limit the damage to one run in the inning and keep it a one-run game.
“It was huge,” Martinez said of the work his starter did to avoid a big inning. “When Sanchy goes out there and pitches, he’s going to compete. And I thought the matchup right there with Hoskins [was good] — and he got him to hit a fly ball and he got out of the inning.”
Sánchez retired the first eight batters he faced, and nine of the first ten, before giving up the first of three runs he allowed in the Phillies’ fourth.
“I think today was my command early in the first three innings was really good,” Sánchez said. “I think later on, I was fighting with the command, but in the end, it’s just making the right pitch to get out of the jam, especially with runners in scoring position I think in the fifth inning that I got bases loaded, two out, that I was able to get out of those innings is good. It can be worse, but tried to execute the pitch, especially to Hoskins.
“I don’t want to leave anything [up] there, he’s got power, he can change the game with one swing. I just tried to keep the ball down and away.”
Realmuto, who started the afternoon 4 for 9 against the Nationals’ starter in their respective careers, got him twice, driving in two of the three runs Sánchez gave up.
“I just try to be ahead,” he said of the approach against the Phillies’ catcher. “Especially he missed the changeup on the first pitch, and I just tried to put my cutter down and away, I just missed a little bit up, and you know how good of hitters those guys are, nothing you can miss against that lineup.”
Though he avoided taking a loss when his teammates tied it up, extending his unbeaten streak since coming off the IL to eight straight starts, Sánchez said, “It’s not about that.”
“I think I’m always trying to be on the mound and be able to give the chance to the team to win. That’s my thought every time when I’m on the mound, especially in the division and in the situation we are right now. We’re in a pretty good stretch, the team is still playing really good, and at the end we had a really tough series, but a good series in the end.”