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Aníbal Sánchez on start vs Phillies; odd balk; finding rhythm + more in Nationals’ 5-1 win...

He’s shown it in flashes this season, but Aníbal Sánchez had it last night in the Nationals’ win over the Phillies...

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In three September starts, heading into last night’s outing against the Philadelphia Phillies in Washington, D.C., Aníbal Sánchez had a 8.53 ERA and a .339/.400/.475 line against in 12 23 innings.

It’s been a rough season for the 36-year-old, 15-year veteran, but Sánchez said he wanted to try to finish strong and show that he’s still capable of competing at the big league level.

Coming off 3 13, 5, and 4 13-inning outings, Sánchez said he would, of course, prefer to stay on the mound longer when his turn in the rotation comes around.

“Get deeper in the game,” Sánchez said was one of his goals.

“Pitch and show that I can still have successful games on the mound and it’s not like those kind of results that I’ve got right now.

“I think that baseball is sometimes about numbers, not about the person that is on the field. And my numbers didn’t show that I can pitch better than that.

“I feel myself and I proved through many years that I’m better than that. But right now, it’s not coming out good, and I want to finish in a different way.”

Sánchez started last night’s outing with a 7.38 ERA, a 5.76 FIP, 13 walks, 34 strikeouts, and a .330/.382/.574 line against in 42 23 IP this season.

“For Anibal it’s just about — he always thinks about the big picture,” Nats’ manager Davey Martinez said before the game.

“I want him to focus on just the little things, what makes him really good, per at bat. Not just — so for me we talk a lot and I tell him I said, ‘Hey, just focus on one hitter at a time and go from there. I mean, you’re really good, I said, you’ve been doing this for a long time. Try not to get ahead of yourself, just focus on one hitter, one at bat, and go from there.”

Sánchez tossed three scoreless to start the series opener with the Phillies, as the Nationals jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and he worked around back-to-back, one-out singles in a 21-pitch fourth which left him at 77 pitches overall.

A two-out walk and single in the top of the fifth set Philly slugger Bryce Harper up with an RBI opportunity in a 2-0 game, with runners on the corners, and Sánchez balked on a feint throw to first that allowed Mickey Moniak, who’d walked, to trot in from third base, 2-1.

Harper K’d for out No. 3, but the 28-pitch frame pushed Sánchez up to 105 pitches and it ended his outing.

Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 6 Ks, 105 P, 59 S, 4/0 GO/FO.

“[Sánchez] kept us in the ballgame,” his manager said after what ended up a 5-1 win.

“His pitch count was high, but he was able to keep us in the ballgame for five innings. He threw 105 pitches, but if we don’t get that from him, no telling what we were going to do.”

Sánchez generated 12 swings and misses, spread across six pitches registered him throwing, and he picked up 16 called strikes on the night, for a 27% CSW% (Caught Swinging + Whiff).

“You know what, I always in baseball say it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. So right now I feel really good with what I’ve done today,” Sánchez said after the game.

“I don’t try to change anything but throw strikes. I just keep throwing my ball down and try to look for swing and miss, because all the time that I’m trying to put the ball on the home plate, more in the strike zone, especially with my changeup, that’s when everything got worse. So I’m trying to stay together with my changeup down and away, especially to lefties, and keep hitting the bottom of the zone, all the time that I’m able to hit that part of the strike zone, that’s when I can pitch good.”

“He made some big pitches,” Martinez added.

“He had some 3-2 counts a lot, but he made that big pitch, and that’s who he is. We talk a lot about him just attacking the strike zone down, and he did that tonight really, really well.”

The third-year skipper said he wasn’t surprised that Sánchez was able to straighten things out.

“I know what I got in Aníbal,” Martinez said.

“He competes. He beats himself up a little bit because he cares, he cares about his teammates, and he cares about us. I told him, I said, just go out there and have fun.

“That’s who you are. And compete.

“When he does that he does well. He was pumped up today, he kept us in the ballgame, and I just told him when we took him out that’s all that we can ask. Great job. Let’s see if we can finish this off.”

And about that balk? Which led to the only run he allowed scoring? What, exactly, was he doing there? Not even Sánchez is sure.

“I think I said that Davey when I came out of the game, ‘Sometimes you think you’ve done everything in baseball, but it’s not like that.’ I don’t know what’s going on. It’s just one quick reaction. I just — I don’t now I know [first baseman Asdrúbal Cabrera] gave me the sign like ‘Hey, I’m going to be behind the runner.’ And I think [Bryce] Harper is in a 3-2 count, I just want to give some time, and just a quick reaction — and I tried to throw it to first — I didn’t even throw the ball. I don’t know. It’s like that. That’s part of baseball. That’s when you start laughing at some kind of stuff like that. Thank God that we were winning. But at the end it’s something that you have to pay more attention when you’ve got that situation again.”