Aníbal’s Not Done:
Aníbal Sánchez went into Sunday’s game unbeaten in his last five outings, with a 0.84 ERA, a 4.67 FIP, and a .119/.244/.224 line against in 21 1⁄3 innings pitched, after the 38-year-old, 16-year veteran put a 7.56 ERA, a 7.28 FIP, and a .286/.360/.561 line against in his first five starts and 25 IP this season, after a delayed start to his 2022 campaign.
Sánchez went on the IL with a cervical nerve impingement in his neck coming out of Spring Training, which kept him off the mound in the majors until mid-July, and it took him some time to get into a groove, but the last few times out he was looking like the 2019 version of himself again, after a down year in 2020, and a year off in ‘21.
His manager, Davey Martinez, talked after Sánchez tossed five scoreless on the road in St. Louis about what’s been working for the starter in the past few outings.
“Him throwing all his pitches in the zone,” Martinez said. “He’s had a lot of early contact. I know he tries to stay away from some guys, and get them to swing and miss at some different pitches, but the biggest thing with him is that he’s around the zone with all his pitches, and it makes him effective. We talked about this before with him, you know, the three months of him not being able to do anything, it was going to take him some time, and now you’re seeing him completely healthy, in a groove, in a routine, his mechanics are really good, so he’s pitching well.”
In Sunday’s outing, Sánchez was paired up with debuting catcher Israel Pineda, 22, who got called up after Keibert Ruiz suffered a (most likely) season-ending injury in the series against the Cardinals. Martinez said he thought his veteran starter would be a good match with the young backstop.
“I wanted to give [Pineda] a day today to catch Aníbal, just to kind of get him out there and get his feet wet,” Martinez explained.
“It will be his first game. We’ll see how he does today, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about him.
“He’s handled the pitching really well down in Rochester. He swung the bat well. So he’s going to get an opportunity to catch today.”
There was a threat of (and then actually) rain in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon, but the Nats’ skipper said the battery for the finale took advantage of the time they had to get on the same page going into the game.
“[Sánchez] came in already this morning kind of wanting to know what’s going on,” with the weather, Martinez said, “and I told him, I said, ‘Look, it looks we’re probably going to end up probably waiting for a while,’ and it’s been perfect, he’s been sitting with Pineda pretty much all morning, and kind of teaching him what he wants to do and how he wants to attack hitters, so it’s kind of good that they got a little extra time. I know yesterday they sat and met for a while as well, so he’s looking forward to throwing to him actually.”
They only got to work together for two innings, with a 3 1/2-hour rain delay after the second inning ending Sánchez’s day prematurely, but Pineda stayed in the game and worked with a parade of relievers. He took a walk in the top of the sixth, reaching base for the first time in the majors, and scored the go-ahead run to put the Nationals up 5-4 in what ended up a 7-5 loss to the Phillies. He finished the day 0 for 3 with the walk, run scored, and three Ks.
They still have some things to work out, (if MacKenzie Gore is able to return from the IL, and as they manage Josiah Gray’s workload), when it comes to how they’ll handle the rotation in D.C. over the final weeks of the season.
But before Sunday’s game in Philadelphia, Davey Martinez laid out Washington’s plan for the two-game series with the Baltimore Orioles in D.C. tonight and tomorrow.
“As of now we’re going to go with [Cory] Abbott the first game [against] Baltimore, and then [Patrick] Corbin for the second, and then after that we’ll come up with another plan,” he said on Sunday morning.
Abbott, of course, pitched in Saturday night’s game, giving up a solo home run by former Nats’ slugger Kyle Schwarber with one out in what ended up an eight-pitch eighth, but it was just a between-starts side session, essentially, which Martinez said Abbott preferred over throwing one in the bullpen.
“He actually would rather face hitters for his side days,” Martinez said.
“He said it helps him really bear down and compete.
“So we asked him yesterday if that’s what he wanted to do, and he said, ‘Yeah, 100%.’ We talked before the game.
“So he went out there and he didn’t throw too many pitches, so he’s ready to go Tuesday.”
Road Trip Complete:
Davey Martinez’s club was 4-3 through two stops on their 10-game, three-city road trip, when they got to Philadelphia and were swept by the Phillies, who’ve now won eight in a row against their NL East rivals and 13 of 15 with Washington this season.
It was a frustrating end to the trip, which left the Nationals 27-45 away from D.C. in 2022, as they return home (where they are 22-47) for the next-to-last homestand of the season.
“You know what, we got a day off tomorrow,” Martinez said after a rain-interrupted seven-hour-ish afternoon in Citizens Bank Park, “I thought we played well this road trip, so we got to bounce back and we’ve got Baltimore coming in.”
That his club played as well as they did in series against New York, St. Louis, and in Philly, all of whom are fighting for spots in the postseason, while Washington plays out the schedule, was some sort of consolation for the fifth-year manager.
“I thought we played really well,” Martinez said. “Our defense has played well.
“We swung the bats well. We got to keep our heads up, keep going, and like I said, they deserve a day off, get a nice day off, get a clean slate, come back Tuesday.”