Sánchez shows off wide-ranging repertoire in scoreless debut

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Anyone who hadn’t seen Aníbal Sánchez pitch before Tuesday’s game saw everything they needed to see during this start against the Cardinals to understand exactly why the Nationals wanted him in the first place.

Over the course of two efficient, scoreless innings of work, Sánchez showed off the repertoire and approach that made him so successful last season in Atlanta.

With a fastball that stayed in the upper-80s but a deep assortment of off-speed pitches that all appeared to come from the same arm angle, Sánchez baffled St. Louis’ lineup during his spring debut.

Sanchez-A-Pitch-White-ST-sidebar.jpg“Yeah, that’s what I like,” he said. “I try to throw every pitch as a fastball. That was my key last year, and I want to continue to do that. No matter how hard I can throw my fastball, I assume I can keep my arm with my same action with every pitch. It’s good for me.”

Sánchez threw six different pitches last season for the Braves, using three of them (four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup) between 23 percent and 29.7 percent of the time, and using the other three (sinker, slider, curveball) between 5.5 percent and 8.9 percent of the time.

The end result of all that? Opposing hitters never know what to expect in any particular situation, and they have a hard time picking up the type of pitch as Sánchez throws it.

“It’s tough,” manager Davey Martinez said of facing pitchers like Sánchez. “You’ve got to go up there, and all of a sudden you’re looking for a fastball and you think it’s 1-0, and then he throws you a changeup. Or he can throw you a cutter. Nothing’s ever straight.”

Sánchez showed all of it off during Tuesday’s start. He retired six of the seven batters he faced, the lone blemish a leadoff walk of José Martínez in the top of the second. He never let a ball leave the infield.

“I feel good,” Sánchez said. “I’ve got good command. I’ve been working on that for the whole spring training, and I put it together today in the game, and I’m glad that everything’s coming out good.”

Working with Kurt Suzuki, his batterymate in Atlanta last season, Sánchez looked quite comfortable in his first outing as a National. Martinez does want to make sure Yan Gomes catches Sanchez as well this spring, and the manager doesn’t intend to use personal catchers for any members of his starting rotation.

That said, Sánchez appreciated the opportunity to work with Suzuki in his first start of the spring.

“It was easier, definitely keeping Kurt over there,” he said. “He knows me more than I think, and he makes good calls. And I think we were on the same page, even if we don’t prepare any kind of game plan.”

If nothing else, this spring should better prepare Sánchez for the regular season than his 2018 spring did. Originally signed by the Twins on Feb. 16, he made only two starts before he was released. The Braves picked him up on a minor league deal, but he made only two more starts for them before the season began.

It didn’t negatively affect Sánchez’s regular season performance; he went 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA over 136 2/3 innings. But he’s looking forward to enjoying a full spring with one club, allowing himself to prepare for the season without fear of any surprise twists like he experienced a year ago.

“It’s totally different now,” he said. “I am with one team that I’m going to go into the season with the team. When I signed with Minnesota last year, even if I didn’t have a guaranteed contract, it put me in different situations. This year it’s totally different. I feel good. My arm is healthy, and I’m able to start a game in spring training and prove my command there. I feel good about it.”

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