Aníbal Sánchez was (8-0) over a 16-start stretch between May 29th and September 4th last season, and the 35-year-old, 14-year veteran went (11-2) overall in his final 21 outings, with a 3.42 ERA, 33 walks, 93 strikeouts, and a .227/.282/.386 line against in 123 2⁄3 innings pitched in those last appearances.
Those outings came, of course, after the right-hander, who signed a 2-year/$19M deal with the Washington Nationals last winter, went (0-6) in his first nine starts, with a 5.10 ERA, 25 walks, 41 Ks, and a .263/.353/.463 line against over 42 1⁄3 IP.
During the Nationals’ postseason run last October, Sánchez discussed what was different for him after a 10-Day IL stint in May that drew a stark line between his early struggles and subsequent surge.
“If you watch the whole game that happened early in the season when I was pitching,” he said, “... everything was there. Everything was the same, until I came to the IL. Couple of errors, couple base hits, couple situations, couple runners on base. Those little things change a lot. Like I remember that I lost four games, 2-0, 2-1, so those games. But I got like an injury with my leg.
“I remember I didn’t pitch for like 10, 12 days before my first game of the season. I got hit on the leg. A lot of things going on on the team early in the season for me to compete harder for the second half. But I didn’t do something like special, like I try to figure out what I had done before the IL and after. Everything was the same.”
Sánchez’s 2019 campaign wrapped up with three starts for the World Series champs in the postseason in which he put up a a 2.50 ERA with four walks, 18 Ks, and a .221/.284/.368 line against in 18 IP during the NLDS, NLCS, and the Fall Classic.
After his first Grapefruit League outing of 2020 on Tuesday afternoon, the starter talked to reporters about where he’s at in his progression early this Spring.
Sánchez threw 26 pitches in two innings of work in what ended up a 9-6 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, giving up two hits and one run while he was on the mound.
“I feel good,” he said afterwards. “I felt comfortable with my location today, just a couple pitches yanked from my hand, but it’s the first day.
“I think everything is start working from that,” Sánchez added, “and let’s see, I’m going to see the video tomorrow, how everything came out from my arm.”
His goals in these early outings?
“I just want to just hit a spot,” he said. “I don’t want to rush anything. I don’t want to be the hero today.
“I just want to be able to throw a lot of strikes, especially because I want to just command every pitch.”
The last time he faced the Cardinals before Tuesday afternoon, Sánchez tossed 7 2⁄3 innings of scoreless ball, taking a no-hit bid into the seventh inning of Game 1 of the NLCS, earning the win in the first of the Nationals’ four victories in the series sweep.
After a strong run following the IL stint, and a solid postseason showing, Sánchez said he hoped he could pick up where he left off at the end of the 2019 campaign in his second season in D.C.
“Definitely I want to start the way that I finished, so right now I’m working hard to that. I’m just working every single day to just keep my mechanics closed. I don’t want to open like early in the season, I don’t want to elevate too many balls like early in the season last year.
“So I just want to [work] like the way that I finished last year, I finished with my — my fastball was way down, then normal, and hit the bottom of the corner of the strike zone, it helps me to be there late in the game.”
While he doesn’t have the velocity he had early in his career, when he was throwing in the low-to-mid 90s, his manager told reporters after today’s game, Sánchez now knows how to pitch.
“He knows who he is now,” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“Back then, obviously, he threw a lot harder. He understands how to pitch now.”