Aníbal Sánchez gave up six hits and four runs in his 2020 debut, with all four runs coming on solo home runs in a five-inning, 88-pitch outing against the Toronto Blue Jays in D.C.
Start No. 2 began with the 36-year-old, 15-year veteran giving up five hits, three walks, and three earned runs in the first two innings against the Baltimore Orioles in Nationals Park, in which he threw a total of 47 pitches as the O’s got to the right-hander early in the opener.
It was 4-0, with Sánchez up to 70 pitches after he gave up a leadoff double and RBI single in a 14-pitch fourth, and after a scoreless fifth he gave up a single in the first at bat of the sixth, before he was lifted and charged with one more run when reliever Ryne Harper replace the starter gave up a three-run home run by Renato Núñez.
Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 Ks, 91 P, 57 S, 3/2 GO/FO.
“Sanchez, the first few innings, everything was up,” manager Davey Martinez said after what ended up an 11-0 loss, “so it was just one of those games.”
Sánchez has given up a lot of hard-hit balls early this season, which is something Martinez said they have to correct.
“We’ve got to get him down in the strike zone. I recall last year — his first few starts with us last year, he was up too,” Martinez explained.
Sánchez, in the first year of his 2-year/$19M deal with the Nationals, started 2019 (0-6) over his first nine starts, with a 5.10 ERA, 25 walks, 41 Ks, and a rough .263/.353/.463 line against in 42 1⁄3 IP.
After time off for a hamstring injury, however, he was unbeaten (8-0) over a 16-start stretch between May 29th and September 4th, with a solid 3.21 ERA, 27 walks, 75 strikeouts, and a .225/.285/.358 line against in 92 2⁄3 IP in that run.
His first start was on July 27th, and with postponed games at the start of the season, he did not get back on the mound for start No. 2 until last night (August 7th).
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily the time off, that he may have had,” Martinez said, “but he hasn’t been in that every five-day rotation yet, so that’s why — I wanted to leave him out there.
“His last inning and a half he actually threw the ball better, but I wanted to get him up there about 90 pitches today, just so he gets that feeling.
“Hopefully his next outing he can get the ball down. he’s really good when he gets the ball down. And we know that, so he’s just got to get the ball down in the zone.”
“I used to throw my fastball down and it’s easier to locate my [offspeed] pitch in the dirt,” Sánchez said when he was asked to diagnose his early-season issues after the loss. “And that’s when the hitters get out more swing and miss, but when I’m up, every pitch like the breaking ball stays more like — a little bit higher than normal and that’s when the hitter is able to get contact with the ball.”
Sánchez said some of his struggles now might be akin to what he went through last year as he settled into the season. This year that’s been difficult for everyone around the game.
“This season is something that you have to handle no matter what, what you have to face,” he said.
“I was supposed to pitch in Miami five days ago — I don’t know how many days ago — but now I’m pitching today with 12 days’ [rest]. The same [thing] happened last year early in the season.
“I think when you’re out of routine it’s really hard to see what’s going on, and right now I can see the difference between the games with fans and no fans and all those kinds of things, a little bit something in your mind, but in the end ... I think I need to figure out how to control my game in all those situations.”
His manager leaving him out there to work out some of the kinks and find a rhythm helped Sánchez said.
“Yeah, I wanted to stay longer. I saw in the fifth inning I just had 80-something pitches and I just wanted to stay longer in the game. I know that I can do it. I missed a pitch against Renato in that inning, and we talked before about if I allow any hits just take me out, but I wanted that up basically for myself.”
“I always say when I’m pitching I fight,” Sánchez said, “so today probably I received more punches than what I give.”