Davey Martinez noticed something was different with Aníbal Sánchez the first time he saw the 38-year-old, 15-year veteran throw this spring.
Sánchez, who was part of the roster for the World Series winning Washington Nationals in 2019, and pitched for the club in 2020, returned from a year off and signed with the team again this spring, arriving in Spring Training looking for a shot to make it back to the major leagues for a 16th season.
The year off, Martinez said during the first week of camp, seemed to have helped.
“Aníbal threw a bullpen today and he was strike one, strike one, strike one. And he threw the ball really well, so that was good to see,” the skipper told reporters after watching the righty throw for the first time this year in West Palm Beach, FL.
“He didn’t pitch all of last year,” Martinez added, “... so he’s excited, but what I did notice is he had a lot more extension in his fastball, and it was kind of nice. I mean, in 2020, it was a little short, but he worked really hard on getting back and getting that extension and finishing, and the ball was coming out really well, so I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Asked if he would judge Sánchez as he would any other pitcher in camp, or if he would be watching with the knowledge that he is returning from a year off, Martinez said he and the pitcher know one another well, and he knows what to look for from him.
“Obviously, I know him,” Martinez said.
“In 2020, we saw some things, but what I like about him now is that he’s got a lot of extension on his finish, on his release. And he was really good. He was throwing the ball well today. He threw a couple of really good fastballs, some cutters, but his changeup was really good, and like I said, it was more his extension. [In] 2020, it looked like he was cutting the ball off and not getting out there, and he said it was something he’s worked on, and not pitching for a year he said might have helped him a little bit, and his body feels great, it really does.
“So, he looked good today, so we’ll see where he’s at his next outing, but hopefully he can stay that way.”
In his first outing in Grapefruit League action, Sánchez retired seven straight to start, hit 93 on the radar according to reports from the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, and held the Houston Astros’ (mostly minor league lineup) hitless through 2 1⁄3 innings of work.
“That’s awesome,” Martinez said of Sánchez’s outing overall, and the radar readings for the starter, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“Now, all of a sudden, he’s getting that late carry, and his ball’s cutting a little bit now that he’s getting out in front.”
Sánchez too chalked it up to the arm feeling good after time off in 2021.
“I think everything is fresh, you know, the arm, if you remove a year,” he said when he spoke to reporters after his initial outing, “and especially because I wasn’t off because of an injury.”
“I was off because I decided to stay off,” he explained. “So that’s a good thing at the end. I’m just like building my arm right now to prepare for the season. It’s different [than] to build up with an injury.”
Having not pitched last season though, and with the quick ramp-up this spring, the Nats and the veteran are going to be careful as they prepare for the 2022 campaign.
“After one year off, it’s something that I needed, to be healthy. I don’t want to rush my arm, I don’t want to make any kind of pressure on my arm, I just want to throw everything as loose as I can, and just keep the ball in the strike zone,” Sánchez said.
“I’m trying to be ahead with my fastball. Late in the last two innings, I tried to work on my other stuff like my changeup, my curve, and slider, and put it for a strike. I always like the first pitch to be for a strike, and right now is the moment to work on it.”
The mechanics, and the extension in particular, that Martinez liked, are something Sánchez said he wants to keep doing as he gets closer to the start of the season.
“I just want to keep that as long as I can,” Sánchez added, “... and working every single day to keep that mechanics. Because as soon as my arm gets loose, and is able to throw every ball in front, I can be on the mound for a while.”