Aníbal Sánchez appeared to have turned a corner when he held the Miami Marlins to a run on five hits in seven innings of work on the mound back on August 23rd, earning a win for the first time this season after starting the campaign (0-3) in four outings with an 8.50 ERA and a .349/.419/.651 line against in 18 IP.
In two starts after the appearances against the Fish, however, the 36-year-old, 15-year vet had given up 16 hits and nine runs, six earned, in 8 1⁄3 IP, with his last outing before last night’s against the Tampa Bay Rays, a 3 1⁄3-inning outing against the Philadelphia Phillies in which he threw 74 pitches to 20 batters before he was done.
“I don’t know man, I don’t really have a lot of words to explain what happened today,” the right-hander told reporters after his brief start in what ended up a 6-5 loss to the Phillies.
“Early I feel really good. I feel really good all game. My command I think was there. It’s hard when everything is coming out good. I think every contact that they did today, they found a hole.”
Before last night’s game, manager Davey Martinez was asked what has to be going right for Sánchez to have success like he did against the Marlins in that 8/23 appearance.
“Location and down,” Martinez said succinctly. “When he’s going really well, he keeps the ball down.
“What happens is, all his pitches become effective when his fastball is down. Cause his changeup is really good down. His curveball, cutter, really good down.
“He can pitch up for effect, but for the most part he’s got to stay down and he’s got to use both sides of the plate. He’s really good when he does that.”
“We talked,” Martinez said when asked about mechanical adjustments Sánchez made.
“I saw some video of him, went down and watched his bullpen a couple times. For him, it’s all about fluidity.
“He’s got to feel his legs underneath him and he’s got to keep his head all connected in one line. Sometimes he gets out over ahead of himself and falls to first base. We want him to drive straight to home plate. His last bullpen he threw the other day was really good, so we’re hoping that he stays right there. Sometimes when things aren’t going well, he tries to do a little too much. And I tell him, just go relax, have fun, you’ve done this forever, you’re really good at what you do so just go out there and have fun and know who you are.”
Sánchez tossed five scoreless on 74 pitches last night in Nationals Park, and the 36-year-old, 15-year vet returned to the mound in the sixth and let the first two runners on with a single by Brandon Lowe and hit-by-pitch on Randy Arozarena.
Ji-Man Choi lined a single to right in the next at bat, and Lowe scored from second ahead of a throw in from Adam Eaton to make it 4-1 Nationals and end Sánchez’s night in what ended up a 5-3 win.
Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks, 88 P, 50 S, 6/2 GO/FO.
“It’s amazing what happens when our starting pitching goes out there and gives us five-plus, six innings, things change,” Martinez said after Sánchez followed Max Scherzer the night after the Nationals’ ace tossed seven scoreless.
“I feel really good early in the game, I finally have figured out my mechanics and how to make the hitter miss my fastball,” Sánchez said, after generating 14 swinging strikes and getting 13 called strikes overall from the Rays’ hitters.
His fastball and changeup, which he said was, “breaking good out of the strike zone,” and breaking, “down more than normal,” helped him keep Rays’ hitters off-balance all night.
“I think it’s because my fastball and my changeup come out the same, you know, those pitches come out exactly against the hitters,” he explained. “It’s something that didn’t happen before, and even like when I threw good against the Marlins. But today, I’m able to throw my fastball and my changeup in the same arm motion, it helped me to keep those guys out of balance.”