Veteran starter Aníbal Sánchez took the mound on Sunday afternoon in the nation’s capital, the latest of the Washington Nationals’ pitchers to get sim game action in as the defending World Series champions prepare for the 60-game MLB campaign, which kicks off with New York’s Yankees visiting Nationals Park on July 23rd.
Sánchez went four innings against his teammates, giving up a home run by Eric Thames for the only run he allowed in the abbreviated outing.
“He wanted to get four ups today, and did well,” Davey Martinez told reporters when the manager spoke with reporters on a Zoom call on Sunday afternoon.
“He had 65 pitches at the end. He wanted to try to push himself to get to that 60th pitch and he said he felt good. His legs felt good.
“He’s been throwing a lot since he’s been here and he obviously threw a lot when he was gone. But ever since he got here he’s been really throwing a lot on the side and throwing some extra sides, so he feels good, which is good.
“Once again, we’ll see how he turns around tomorrow, but after the game he was surprised at how good he felt.”
Sánchez, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Erick Fedde, and Austin Voth are all working hard to ramp up as quickly as possible with the shorter-than-usual time to build up before the Nationals start playing games that count.
Martinez said he’s been pleasantly surprised by what he’s seen from his starting rotation in the first week-plus of workouts at Spring Training 2.0.
“I’m very encouraged that they followed what we put together for them during the off-time,” Martinez said.
“They all followed it, they all threw, and they came in rip-raring to go and they came in in good shape and it makes everything a lot easier when nobody put on 15-20 lbs.
“They were all in good shape. They look good so far like I said. Max felt good today, so he’ll be back at it again, and we’ll build him up tomorrow and we’ll go from there.”
Martinez knows the Nationals’ starters don’t have much time to prepare for their 60-game schedule which begins later this month, and he and his coaches are doing whatever they can during the time they have available.
They’ll be cautious at first, Martinez said, and they may have to manage workloads and turn to the bullpen earlier than they might otherwise for a while as everyone gets up to speed.
“We’ll have to see where these guys end up at the end of camp,” the third-year manager explained.
“They’re all good, but still in all, I know 60 games ain’t 162 games, but there are games, and there are these guys, especially our guys, they’re very intense. It’s going to be hard to take Max out of a game after the fifth inning when he’s doing well, but there might have to come a time where we have to do that just for longevity.
“But these guys, for me, if they keep doing what they’re doing, they’re going to be ready to go out the chute, and they all look good, so we’ll just take it day by day and see where they are at.”
One thing that makes the quick build-up a little bit easier is the fact that the Nationals have both of their catchers, Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes, back for a second season after the duo started 160 of 162 games last season.
“It’s awesome,” Martinez said of both catchers being behind the plate again, with Suzuki back in the second year of the 2-year/$10M, and Gomes in the first year of a 2-year/$10M deal after the Nationals declined a $9M option for the backstop and then re-signed him.
“These guys don’t miss a beat. The [pitchers are] throwing to guys that they love to throw to. They know — the catchers know the pitchers, they work on sequences all the time.
“They’re constantly communicating. They have a routine together. It makes my job a lot easier, knowing that those guys are here.
“They understand what we’re trying to do and they understand our pitching staff.”
That comfort-level could be big for the Nationals, who won’t have to worry about pitchers and catchers getting to know one another with the 60-game schedule leaving little room for learning on the job.
“We talked a lot about getting off to a good start,” Martinez said. “We talk a lot about scoring early in games, scoring first, putting the pressure on the other team early. We’re going through a lot of data right now to see what we can do, to kind of be disruptive in games and make things happen a little bit, so we’re looking at all different avenues to see what we can do to better ourselves this year in the shorter season.”