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Aníbal Sánchez hit hard when up in Nationals’ 5-3 loss to Red Sox in Fenway...

It wasn’t a total step back, but after improving last time out, Aníbal Sánchez was up in the zone and hit hard against the Red Sox.

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Washington Nationals v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After struggling in his first four starts of the 2020 campaign (0-3, 8.50 ERA, .349/.419/.651 line against), Aníbal Sánchez started to sort things out late in his fourth outing and it really showed in start No. 5, when the 36-year-old, 15-year veteran tossed seven strong against a Miami Marlins’ team that managed just one run on five hits in a 92-pitch start for the right-hander.

“My mechanics are there,” Sánchez said, “it’s something I’ve been working on for the whole season and finally I had it with me and I got a really good result.”

“He went out there today and pumped strikes,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters after Washington’s 9-3 win over the Fish. “He kept the ball below the zone unless he wanted to go up, and he pumped strikes, but it was a good day.”

Sánchez ran into trouble early in start No. 6 of the 2020 campaign, however, with Boston’s Red Sox jumping out to a 3-0 lead when Xander Bogaerts hit a first-pitch fastball up in the zone out to center for a three-run bomb, which was the seventh home run off the Nationals’ starter in 26 IP this season.

A first-pitch fastball up in the zone outside to Kevin Pillar went out to center and over Victor Robles’s head for a leadoff triple in the second, and it was 4-0 Sox after a groundout to first brought Pillar in.

Sánchez’s teammates scored three in the third, but Pillar jacked an 0-1 fastball in the fourth, hitting a solo shot to left, over the Green Monster, and all the way out of Fenway Park, 5-3.

Three Ks around a single in a 25-pitch fifth kept it a two-run game, but a leadoff double by Bogaerts in the sixth ended Sánchez’s outing in what ended up a 5-3 loss for the Nationals.

Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 5.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 2 HRs, 85 P, 55 S, 7/2 GO/FO.

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“The first inning I thought the ball was up again,” Martinez said after the loss in the second of three in the Sox’ home.

“And then after that he started settling in. We talk about that with him all the time. He’s got to establish the bottom part of the strike zone for him to be successful.

“He knows that. Once he starts getting the ball down, then he can elevate when he wants to.

“He has to get the ball down. He knows that. He was frustrated when he came out of the game, because he knew he left some balls up that should have been down.”

“I feel good lately,” Sánchez said, after finishing the night with a 6.90 ERA on the year, “but in the first inning, I don’t know, I tried to hit the corners, I tried to hit the spots, I think they were jumping quickly on the ball and especially Bogaerts. I think I missed a pitch, it was supposed to be down and away, and I just left it up and away, and this guy he just put a really good swing on it.”

“Balls were left probably mid-level,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “He was trying to get the ball down and made a mistake, and he made a few mistakes tonight and they got hit.”

“Overall, Anibal, I thought he threw the ball better than what the results were for sure.”

“The first couple innings, the first two innings, I feel the ball really weird, I don’t know why,” Sánchez said.

“I don’t have an explanation for that, but after that, I started to figure out how to put the ball down, especially because I needed to work with my changeup.

“I think I got a couple pitches that I missed up, but I did it with a purpose, so yeah, all the time the key for me is working down, [and] I elevated the ball when I don’t want to, I paid the price.”

BONUS QUOTE: Asked about that first-pitch fastball to Bogaerts that went out for the three-run blast, and if he tried to surprise the Red Sox’ slugger with the pitch, Sánchez had a real good line:

“I don’t surprise nobody with my fastball. Probably like 10 years ago maybe, but not now.

“For me, it’s better to throw the ball down, then when I miss up, it’s easier for those guys, especially those kinds of guys with power and they are a high ball hitter, so I think I missed that pitch.”