Shortly after the club signed Aaron Sanchez to a minor league deal in mid-March, Davey Martinez, the Washington Nationals’ fifth-year manager, talked about what the team was getting in the 29-year-old, seven-year veteran.
“Here’s a guy that’s had some injuries, but he has some unbelievable upside, and we wanted to take a chance, bring him in and see what he can do,” Martinez explained.
Sanchez had surgery to repair a torn capsule in his right shoulder, which kept him from pitching in the majors in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign, and the right-handed starter had a biceps issue which limited him to nine games (seven starts) and 35 1⁄3 IP for the San Francisco Giants in ‘21, but the Nats felt with his experience, and at a relatively young age, the pitcher was worth the gamble.
“The big thing with him as I talk to him is that we’re here to help him,” Martinez added.
“For me, we have one of the best medical staffs in baseball, and he needs to get in there and they got some stuff that they’re going to do with him to keep him healthy.”
In the nine games and 35 1⁄3 innings he threw in 2021, with the San Francisco Giants he was facing in his first start with the Nationals on Saturday, Sanchez posted a 3.06 ERA, a 4.05 FIP, 15 walks (3.82 BB/9) , 26 Ks (6.63 K/9), and a .234/.327/.329 line against, and he brought a career 3.93 ERA and 4.38 FIP to the Nationals’ rotation.
“If we can keep him healthy, he will definitely help us,” Martinez said this spring.
“I’m looking at him as a starter right now, but who knows. I know he’s done both, but we’ll see. The big thing for him is to stay healthy.”
In three starts at Triple-A Rochester before he was called up today, Sanchez put up a 3.60 ERA, with five walks and 10 Ks in 15 IP.
Heading into his debut with the Nationals this afternoon, the Nats’ skipper talked about why he was the choice when the club needed a starter to face the Giants.
“He’s been throwing the ball well. We thought it was time he comes up here. We needed a starter, so he’ll get an opportunity to start for us today,” Martinez said.
He added that he and his coaches would be watching Sanchez carefully, knowing that the pitcher has dealt with the injury issues in the past, and is still, like most pitchers after the brief, three-week ramp-up in Spring Training, building, but he thought Sanchez did match up well with the Giants, and was good to go as far as he could in the outing.
“We’re going to watch Aaron carefully,” Martinez said.
“We know his history, but I know he’s done well, he feels strong, and he’s been throwing the ball well, so like I said, there’s no limitations on how far he can go, but we’ll keep a close eye on him.”
Sanchez got a double play grounder out of Brandon Belt after Mike Yastrzemski reached on a shift-beating bunt single to start the game, but the starter issued walk to Darin Ruf, gave up single by Joc Pederson, and surrendered an RBI single by Brandon Crawford that put the Giants up 1-0 in the first inning.
Sanchez picked Pederson off second base to end the Giants’ first, then proceeded to set nine-straight batters before the streak ended in the fifth, with a leadoff double by Wilmer Flores, who took third base on a Thairo Estrada single, and scored on a sac fly to left field by Luis González, 2-0, and it was 3-0 in the Giants’ favor when Estrada scored on a one-out line drive single to left-center field by Curt Casali which ended Sanchez’s outing in what ended up a 5-2 loss.
Aaron Sanchez’s Line: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 64 P, 43 S, 5/4 GO/FO.
“He was cruising along there, he threw the ball well, really well, I think,” Martinez said after the club’s fourth straight loss.
“In the fifth inning the ball got up a little bit on him, and when you’re a sinker ball pitcher you’ve got to keep the ball down. The ball was up a little bit and I thought that was good. But I liked what I saw out of him, and if he can continue to gives us innings — and he’s going to get better, he’s going to get stronger, but he looked good. I was pleased with the way he threw the ball.”
So was Sanchez.
“I thought I threw the ball well,” the pitcher said. “Early they got a couple hits that found holes. Mostly throughout most of the game I thought they found holes, maybe two to three hard-hit balls, but that’s baseball. I felt like maybe in the fifth pitch selection could have been a little different. We’re going back and looking at it, but I thought for the most part I threw the ball well.”
Sanchez averaged 93 MPH with his sinker (50%), which got up to 94.5 MPH, and averaged 93.4 with his four-seamer (23%), which hit 95.1, and he mixed in a curve (20%) and change (6%). His 60% ground ball% was a good sign for his manager.
“What I know about Aaron, he’s a ground ball guy, and he throws a lot of ground balls,” the skipper said.
“When he’s good, that’s what he does. So I was definitely pleased by that. They found some holes, but he threw the ball well, and surprisingly he was up to 94, which was nice, so I think it’s just a matter of getting him out there, getting some reps, and you’ll see the innings start piling up for him. He’s a competitor, he’s always been, so like I said, he’s going to get another shot at it in five days.”
Sanchez said more than anything, he was just happy to be on the mound, healthy, and back in the majors.
“First time I felt like myself on a big league mound in four years, so — definitely a step in the right direction, very pleased with that,” he said.