The Blue Jays used the longball to build an early lead against Nationals veteran Aníbal Sánchez. Thanks to four solo homers and four double plays that kept the Nats offense from igniting, Toronto grabbed the series opener 4-1 on Monday night.
Setting the tone on the game’s second pitch, Teoscar Hernández led off with a solo homer to right-center field to give Toronto a 1-0 advantage.
It was Hernández’s third career leadoff home run, one of two homers for the slugger off of Sánchez. Hernández now has four homers against Sánchez in his career.
“Those guys, they’re pretty good,” Sánchez said in the postgame video call. “They swing hard every pitch. And Hernández, we’ve got a long history. This guy, I think, hit pretty good against me. I think I missed a couple pitches against him. When you miss pitches against the wrong guy, that’s what happens. But at the end, I figured I felt really good today. I (got) tested my first time and faced in a real game with an offense. It’s a little bit weird, but it’s something that you have to handle and get ready in five days.”
Catcher Kurt Suzuki sensed how aggressive the young Blue Jays hitters were going to be. The strategy paid off.
“They were kind of jumping him early,” Suzuki said on a video call. “They are a really aggressive young team that likes to get off early, early (in) counts. Aníbal, the first inning, trying to get into a groove. It’s kind of tough when guys come out swinging like that. They knew he was going to throw strikes. I think the solo shot usually doesn’t kill you, but we obviously have to score runs as well.
“I thought he pitched well. Obviously, he didn’t have the command that he wanted to, but overall for his first start back from the little time that he had to get ready, I thought he threw ball really well.”
Manager Davey Martinez said the Blue Jays were able to get good looks on those homers at Sánchez’s cutter (three times) and his splitter.
“He was up in the zone. When he’s going good, he gets the ball down in the zone.” said Martinez on a video call. “Those home runs, other than one breaking ball he threw to (Rowdy) Tellez, with all those other ones, the balls were up.”
Interestingly enough, Sánchez did not give up a single all night. Of the six Blue Jays hits off Sánchez, one was a double, another a triple and four were homers. He recorded only two groundouts and four flyouts on the night.
The veteran starter joked: “Almost a no-hitter!”
In the fourth inning, the Blue Jays enjoyed the longball again thanks to solo shots from Tellez and Danny Jansen. Hernández added his second home run of the game leading off the fifth.
Sánchez threw 88 pitches through five innings. He allowed four runs on six hits with seven strikeouts and one walk.
“I think it’s part of the game,” Sánchez said. “Sometimes that can happen. Sometimes you can have a really good outing. But like I said, I think I missed the pitch against those guys. They’re fresh, they’re young, they’re strong. It’s like a new baseball era. But at the end, those guys, they put a really good swing on it. I had to be careful with the rest of the guys. As soon as I missed one pitch, I paid for it.”
It was the most home runs Sánchez had allowed in a game since surrendering five against the Orioles on Aug. 6, 2017, while with the Tigers. Detroit lost that game 12-3.
Martinez said Sánchez will be fine. The veteran bounced back from an 0-6 start in 2019 to get rolling in June, July and August. Of course, there are only 60 games to work with this season, so the margin for getting his season going is tighter.
“You know what? He’s going to get back out there five days from now, and he knows what he needs to do,” Martinez said. “He’s been really, really good for us. He’ll know. He was a little off today, I think, with the mechanics, and the ball just came up. He couldn’t get the ball down. He’ll come back in five days, and he works his tail off to be ready between starts. So he’ll be ready.”