MIAMI – Aníbal Sánchez’s career was one that was well traveled. Sixteen major league seasons brought him many personal accomplishments, which all led to the ultimate prize in his last true full campaign.
So when the 39-year-old finally made the decision to retire and he sat down to write out his announcement before posting it on his Instagram account, he had a lot to look back on and be proud of.
“I think just yesterday when I post my (announcement) and I noticed everybody that I'm retiring, I saw 17 years pass in two minutes and a half. It was incredible,” Sánchez said Wednesday afternoon in the Nationals dugout at loanDepot Park with media members from both Washington and Miami surrounding him and his family looking on. “Sounds easy, but it's not like that. The most thing that I'm proud of me through my whole career, I past bad moments and I had always the power to come back and keep going in my career.”
Sánchez retired after 16 major league seasons. He spent parts of seven with the Marlins, parts of six with the Tigers, one with the Braves and the last three with the Nationals. He is the owner of a no-hitter, one of the most impressive postseason performances in history and a World Series championship ring.
“I think for me, every single day I come to the field and most of the things that I say to the guys is just working hard,” he said. “It's a sport for everybody else, but it's work and a job for us. So take it serious, work hard and we're going to have time for everything. For having fun, for working out, for preparing our game, for being outside and making it a good show for the fans and also make some wins for the team.”
And it was no coincidence that he announced it when his first major league team and his last were playing each other in Miami.
“I think that was part of the plan," he said. "No offense to them, but I think I made it like that to be in that position because I love both sides. Especially because the Marlins were the first team to give me the opportunity to play in major leagues. And the Nationals, I feel like a family at the end of my career, and I still keep in contact with everybody in the organization. So, this is the best moment right now for me in my whole career. To finish like that today is the best.”
Signed by the Red Sox as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2001 at the age of 17, the right-hander was then dealt to the Marlins at the end of the 2005 season along with Hanley Ramírez in the same trade that brought Josh Beckett to Boston.
He made his debut when he was 22 on June 25, 2006, against the Yankees, going 5 ⅔ shutout innings with seven hits, two strikeouts, no walks and the win.
Not even two months later, Sánchez made history by no-hitting the Diamondbacks on just 103 pitches with four walks and six strikeouts. He finished the season ninth in National League Rookie of the Year voting and set up a long and successful career for himself.
It wasn’t always dominant starts and no-hitters, though.
On July 23, 2012, Sánchez was traded to the Tigers along with Omar Infante for Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn and a draft pick. In his first full season with Detroit, he led the league with a 2.57 ERA, 162 ERA+, 2.39 fielding independent pitching, and 0.4 HR/9 rate, and finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting. The award was given to his teammate, Max Scherzer.
But Sánchez couldn’t keep up that level of success with the Tigers, even when sharing a rotation at times with Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly. Over the next four seasons, he went 28-35 with a 5.15 ERA and 1.350 WHIP.
When he hit free agency, he signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Twins that was conditional on making the club out of spring training ahead of the 2018 season. He didn’t make the team out of camp and instead had to sign a minor league deal with the Braves in March and had his contract selected in early April.
“I remember the worst part was like '15 and '16 and '17,” Sánchez said. “Those three years with the Detroit Tigers, for me, I thought it was the end. My family, they said, 'I think you can do it.' And I went to Minnesota in spring training and I got released by them. And I take my chance with Atlanta and keep working and prepare myself every single day to make my career back.”
He wound up getting back on track with the Braves, going 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.083 WHIP in 25 games (24 starts). That set him up for the two-year, $19 million deal with the Nationals he signed on December 27, 2018, which also included a club option for 2021.
Little did he know what was waiting for him in Washington.
He earned his 100th career win on June 16, 2019, against the Diamondbacks. He finished the season 11–8 with a 3.85 ERA in 30 starts and led all NL pitchers in errors with just four.
But even that year began slowly for him. (Of course, the whole team started slowly with the now infamous 19-31 record.)
Over his first eight starts with the Nats, he went 0-6 with a 5.27 ERA while the team went 2-6 in those games. But then something clicked. Over his final 22 starts, Sánchez went 11-2 with a 3.38 ERA while the Nats went 15-7 in his outings.
“I can say that I got like a really good stretch after (coming) back from the IL that year,” Sánchez said of his favorite memory with the Nats not related to the postseason. “So I was like (0-6), I remember. And after that, I just finished (11-2). I think all those games, for me, was the best moment for my time on the 2019 (team). If I had to pick one game, definitely is going to be the one in Chicago that I threw like eighth innings and one-third, I think. And I got two hits. My best bunt of the year. So I think I have to pick that one.”
Sánchez nailed that memory of his start against the Cubs. On Aug. 23 at Wrigley Field, he finished 8 ⅓ innings with just one hit, two runs (one earned),two walks and six strikeouts. He even had success at the plate, recording two hits with an RBI bunt single down the third base line and a single to center field.
And of course, there was the postseason.
Sánchez’s most memorable moment with the Nationals came on the night of Oct. 11, 2019, in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals. He shoved by taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning and finished 7 ⅔ scoreless innings, with just one hit to pinch-hitter José Martínez in the eighth, one walk and five strikeouts.
His memory still serves him right, as it was a treat to listen to him retell the story of that night.
“I think back to the night before about that game,” he said We came late to St. Louis and we take balls to the field around 9 p.m. And I saw most of the team working out at that time of the day and I say, "Tomorrow is going to be special.' I don't know if for me if I was going to throw that kind of game. But I saw everybody put the extra (work) late in the season and try to make the World Series by that time. And I said, 'Tomorrow is gonna be special.'
“And inning by inning, I prepared the game really good with (Yan) Gomes, because Kurt (Suzuki), he got hurt the night before. And everything has come out amazing. I remember when (José) Martínez come to the batting box and I'm saying like, 'Oh, this is the only guy that I don't face at all on the on the lineup. If I don't take this guy in a few pitches because he can swing a lot. He's not the guy that's going to miss.' So when I when I got the count to 3-2 and I'm like it's gonna be tough right now. And I just go throw my best pitch. It was a changeup and he was able to put into the field and he was knocking out the no-hitter. I don't know how they're gonna do it if I made it because it probably was gonna be the most beautiful experience on my whole career.”
“I'm telling you right now, the St. Louis game,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said of his favorite memory of Sánchez. “As we all know, we went through that, we didn't have (Daniel) Hudson. It was a big moment, the first game in St. Louis. And he went over there and, man, shoved. Every inning after the sixth inning and I said, 'Man, he's gone a long time. So we got to keep an eye on him.' He kept going out and getting outs. And then I think he made it through eight innings and I thought that was perfect. That's all we needed. So what an unbelievable game he pitched.”
Of course, the Nationals went on to win the World Series that year, the first and only championship of Sánchez’s career.
But the following three years were more difficult for him, like they were for most people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After pitching to a 6.62 ERA during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Nationals declined the option on his contract. After he reportedly turned down multiple major league offers in 2021, he chose to sit out the season due to COVID concerns and the protocols surrounding it.
On March 13, 2022, Sánchez re-signed with the Nationals a minor league deal, and on April 4, he had his contract purchased to the big league roster. However, he didn’t make his first start due to a neck issue caused by the flight from West Palm Beach to Washington, and was placed on the 60-day injured list early in the season.
He eventually made his season debut on July 14, but like 2019, struggled through his first five starts. And like 2019, he turned it around, going 4-1 with a 2.44 ERA over his last nine starts, with the Nats going 7-2 in those games.
And he went out on top, winning what eventually became his last major league start over the Phillies at Nationals Park.
Of course known for his “mariposa” (“butterfly”) changeup, Sánchez finished his career 116-119 with a 4.06 ERA and a 1.311 WHIP over 364 major league appearances. He went 19-19 with a 4.46 ERA and a 1.342 WHIP in 288 ⅓ innings over 55 starts for the Nats.
In 11 career postseason appearances (10 starts), he went 3-6 with 2.93 ERA in 61 ⅓ innings. In three postseason starts with the Nats, he went 1-1 with 2.50 ERA in 18 innings.
“He's had an unbelievable career,” Davey Martinez said. “The guy has thrown no-hitters. He's pitched in the postseason for us. What he's done and what he's meant to our organization doesn't go unnoticed. I'm happy for him and his family. He's got another life to live now. But I'm glad to be a part of something special with him and I'll never forget him.”
The numbers and accomplishments are good. But aside from the World Series title, nothing is as lasting as the impact Sánchez had on the culture he helped build with Martinez and Gerardo Parra. A culture that has remained with the team even after he’s been gone.
“It means a lot,” he said. “Because we teach those guys to have fun, you have to win. So if you win and you earn something to enjoy after the game, so for sure everybody's gonna go outside to make that clubhouse happy after the game. And when you do that in a team, for sure you're gonna bring, I call always that like a domino effect. So if you bring a lot of good energy and you put that energy on the field, that energy is gonna make win, that win is gonna make you happy at the end. So we had fun as a team. And that's why I think that everybody understood that part of the game and that's why they do it right now.”
“He was the dancer, the hugger, the guy that kept everybody loose,” Davey Martinez said. “So he kept everything fun. The chemistry was unbelievable with him and (Gerardo) Parra and that clubhouse. But they brought that energy. I knew that about him when we got him here. But you know what I know about him is his competitiveness, right? I mean, he was so good at taking the ball and going out there every five days and competing and showing these young guys how to do that as well.”
Sánchez sees that taking place with the current team. And he sees the improvement being made by the young players, who are taking this opportunity to make this team their own.
“They're pretty right now,” he said. “I think they got a few players there were rookies last year. They got experience and they got the momentum to keep going, develop and winning and play the game. … I think they got the opportunity to grow up and make the team, even this year, in a really good position at the end of the season.”
As for what’s next for Sánchez? Definitely significant family time. But he’s not ruling out the possibility of returning to baseball in a managing or coaching capacity.
“I love this game. I really love this game,” he said. “If at some point I got the opportunity. probably it would depend where I am with my family. If I got the full support from them, of course I take the decision to do it.”
Congrats to Aníbal on a successful career, filled with accomplishments and joy.