Aníbal Sánchez was unbeaten in 15 starts between May 29th and August 23rd, posting a 3.18 ERA, 23 walks, 69 Ks, and a .229/.284/.357 line against in 87 2⁄3 innings pitched over that stretch.
Heading into Sunday afternoon’s series finale with the Atlanta Braves, however, the 35-year-old, 14-year veteran was winless in his previous three outings, with a 5.82 ERA, eight walks, 13 Ks, and a .227/.311/.530 line against in 17 IP, though seven of the earned runs he allowed in that span came in one start.
Last time out before Sunday, Sánchez gave up just four hits and two runs in seven innings of work on the mound in a 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins.
Sánchez retired 14 of the first 15 batters he faced in Target Field, working around a walk in 4 2⁄3 hitless before the Twins ended his no-hit bid, and tossing six scoreless before he gave up a two-run home run in the seventh.
As good as he’s been on the mound after a rough start to the 2019 campaign, manager Davey Martinez said before Sunday’s series finale with the Atlanta Braves that Sánchez has become an important presence inside the clubhouse in the first year of the 2-year/$19M deal he signed with Washington this winter.
“[He keeps] everything in perspective, keeps everything loose,” Martinez said of the 35-year-old, 14-year veteran.
“He comes into today, smiling, knows he’s got a job to do, but in big moments he’s a guy that steps up, so I expect him to go out there and compete just like he always does, and when he’s on, he’s really good, as we all know.
“He’s got to throw strikes, keep the ball down, and mix in all his pitches.”
Sánchez tossed five scoreless on 79 pitches against the Braves on Sunday, as the Nationals jumped out to a 5-0 lead, and he took the mound in the sixth with a 6-0 advantage and set the side down in order in a 12-pitch frame that left him at 91 total in six scoreless.
It was 7-0 in the seventh when Sánchez returned to the mound and worked around a one-out single in an 18-pitch frame that ended his outing after 109 pitches overall.
Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 109 P, 67 S, 8/8 GO/FO.
Bench coach Chip Hale managed the team for the final few innings, after Davey Martinez was taken to a local hospital as a precaution when he fell ill during the game, and talked with reporters after the Nationals’ win, which avoided a sweep.
“Sánchez,” Hale said after the game, “... you look around the times he pitches against the really good teams, he does a great job. And this is one we needed.”
“I think that’s what we needed right now,” Sánchez said in his own post game scrum, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“Every game that we win right now is really important for us, and to have the opportunity to help the team today is huge for me.”
“He knows when a team needs a lift,” Hale added.
“He’s a leader in that clubhouse. When he’s not pitching he’s always in there encouraging guys, and trying to help with game plans, so we know when he goes out there every time we’re getting the best.”