The veteran right-hander twirled seven scoreless innings, scattering three hits with one walk and three strikeouts. For one of the rare times in their matchups these past two weeks, the Braves never had a shot at gaining an early advantage, and that was because of Sánchez.
“It’s good,” Sánchez said. “Always a lead is good. It always good to go back to the dugout with the same score.”
The Nats watched as their wild card lead dwindled over the weekend, so having the right-hander keep the Braves scoreless provided a much needed boost to their playoff hopes.
“Amazing. I think that’s what we needed right now,” Sánchez said. “Every game that we win right now is really important for us and have the opportunity to help the team today is huge for me.”
Sánchez gave up a two-out double to Freddie Freeman in the first inning. The Braves next hit wasn’t until the fifth when Brian McCann notched a one-out single. Nick Markakis hit a single with one out in the seventh. That was it. Freeman walked in the fourth, so the Braves managed just four baserunners in those seven innings.
He said mixing his fastball and his changeup was a key to preventing the Braves from gaining any type of rhythm at the plate.
“(Making) those pitches is nothing that I can’t handle,” Sánchez said. “When I can command my fastball, my changeup is really good. My changeup is the best pitch for me. I used it every time in every count especially because I can slow down my changeup a lot. It helps me to keep those guys out of balance.”
Sánchez (9-8) threw 109 pitches, 67 for strikes. He only had three strikeouts, but the Braves flew out 10 times.
How important are Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin to the Nats success this season? Very important. But just as important is Sánchez, who could become of critical need for the Nats in the postseason.
With manager Davey Martinez leaving the game due to sickness in the sixth inning, bench coach Chip Hale took over. He said Sánchez is good for many reasons, but especially his demeanor on the mound and his ability to throw so many quality pitches.
“Probably the combination,” Hale said. “I would say it’s a combination and been there done that. This is a veteran guy, when the team needs a lift, he’s a leader in that clubhouse when he’s not pitching. He’s always in there encouraging guys and trying to help with game plans, so he’s just ... everybody. We know when he goes out there, every time, we get his best.”
Sánchez said he was happy to be able to bounce back from the loss at first-place Minnesota last week. In that 5-0 setback Sept. 10 to the Twins, a late Mitch Garver two-run homer changed the game. But he also did not benefit from any offense from his teammates that night to create a margin for error.
This time, the Nats scored five runs in the first three innings against the Braves.
“I think it’s (making) an adjustment on every pitch has helped me,” Sánchez said. “I know mistakes against those teams is hard because you pay for it. I didn’t do it in Minnesota last time. I don’t want to do that today. Focus on every pitch, don’t make those mistakes, I pitched late in the game.”