WASHINGTON - The pitch from Aníbal Sánchez floated towards the plate like a butterfly, a changeup of just 63 miles-per-hour in the sixth inning to Anthony Santander.
But most of his offerings stung like a butterfly – to borrow a phrase from boxing legend Muhammed Ali – on Friday night against the suddenly ferocious Baltimore Orioles.
Sánchez, in his second start of the year for the Nationals, gave up 10 hits, three walks, and five earned runs in just 5.1 innings. The veteran right-hander was tagged with the loss in an 11-0 debacle and saw his ERA rise to 7.84 in the young season.
“The last one (start) was totally different than today,” said Sanchez, 36, sitting in the bowels of Nationals Park after the outing. “They found a lot of holes (today). They attacked. I always say when I’m pitching I fight. Those guys swing a lot. They had a lot of contact with the ball. They put the ball in the right place.”
The Orioles, after losing four straight to the Marlins, scored more runs Friday than the previous four against Miami. Sanchez is now 2-4 in his career against the Orioles, allowing 52 hits in 37.1 innings of work.
“When I’m working up in the zone, it’s really hard for ... I used to throw my fastballs down, and it’s easier to locate my off pitch in the dirt, and that’s when the hitters got out more swing and miss,” said Sanchez, 36, whose career mark fell to 108-110. “So when I’m up, every breaking ball is a bit higher than normal, and that’s when the hitter is able to make contact with the ball.”
Last year, of course, the starting rotation helped lead the Nationals to their first World Series title – and Sánchez came up clutch in post-season outings against the Dodgers and Cardinals.
Now, in this strange season, the Washington starters almost seem human.
Stephen Strasburg has yet to pitch this year – he hopes to go Sunday – while fellow ace Max Scherzer left his start on Wednesday after just one inning as he dealt with a hamstring injury.
Washington pitching coach Paul Menhart told Federal Baseball on Thursday that earlier that off day he was able to see Scherzer in person at Nationals Park.
“I went in and saw him this morning,” Menhart said of his fellow St. Louis native. “He felt like (the hamstring) was improving.”
Menhart said he didn’t want to speculate if Scherzer (0-1, 3.29) would be able to stay on schedule and make his next start – but the pitching coach was hopeful that he could.
So for now, the sure thing in the Nationals’ rotation is lefty Patrick Corbin (1-0, 3.00) while No. 5 man Austin Voth (0-1, 3.60) is slated to start here in Washington on Saturday evening against the Orioles.
A righty from Washington state, Voth is 1-0 with an ERA of 1.50 in his only career start against Baltimore, which came last season.
The winning pitcher Friday was Baltimore lefty Tommy Milone, a draft pick of the Nationals who has now allowed just one run in 18.1 innings in his career against Washington over three starts.
For now, the Nationals need to get Sánchez back on track. He gave up four homers in his first start of the season and is now 0-2, 7.84.
“Right now, I can see (feel) the difference with games with fans and no fans. I have to be able to control my game in all of those situations,” he said.
How does a team deal with such a challenging season, which included unplanned off days, no fans in the stadiums, and a virus lurking in the shadows?
“That’s a good question. That is a really good question,” Sánchez said. “At some point, you pump up; at other times … you don’t feel the same way. I said it early: we have to make some kind of adjustments. We have to handle all of those situations. We have to play better to win. I am not saying the intensity is not there. We have to play better to win some games.”