Flamethrowing Sixto's the 'total package'

September 9th, 2020

With his sixth pitch of the game, struck out Ronald Acuña Jr. swinging on a 100.2 mph fastball. The pitch also was a message that the rookie right-hander was going to be on the attack.

Making his fourth big league start, Sánchez was in command in six-plus innings on Tuesday night, striking out six in the Marlins’ 8-0 victory over the Braves at Truist Park.

The “Sixto Show” has been more than anyone could have imagined.

“You could sense the excitement because we've been talking about Sixto for a couple of years,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “And then to see it get here. I think we did a good job making sure he was built up, so he didn't come here with rules. From the standpoint of, he can only do this. You have to watch his pitch count. You were able to build him physically and give him the best chance to go and be one of the guys.”

Ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami’s No. 1 prospect, Sánchez is the 22nd overall prospect on the Top 100 list. The early returns on his big league career have shown he deserves to be in the National League Rookie of the Year Award conversation. He lowered his ERA to 1.80.

“He has definitely brought an excitement to our rotation, and he continues that competition that we want with all of them in a healthy way,” Mattingly said.

Sánchez allowed just three hits, walked one, hit a batter and exited only after appearing to run out of gas on 89 pitches in the seventh inning. He threw 60 strikes, including two that were tracked by Statcast at 100 mph or higher. Also in the first inning, he blazed a 100.6 mph fastball that Marcell Ozuna fouled off.

"I’m telling you what, if he stays healthy, he’s going to give people fits for a long time," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "That’s the total package right there."

According to Statcast, Sánchez now has 10 pitches tracked at at least 100 mph or higher (not 99.5 and rounded up) this season. The only starting pitcher in the Majors with more is two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom with 14.

Even with a fastball that averages close to 99 mph, Sánchez entered the game throwing changeups 30 percent of the time, compared to 22.4 percent four-seam fastballs and 21.5 percent sinkers.

On Tuesday, the Miami rookie threw 32 four-seamers and just 14 changeups. He mixed in 23 sliders against eight right-handed hitters in Atlanta's lineup.

“That was my plan,” Sánchez said via an interpreter. “In the first inning, I was throwing my fastball and getting ahead in the count. After that, I was going with my secondary pitches, my slider, my changeup. That was the plan during the game.”

The win secured the Marlins’ first series victory in Atlanta since 2016. Now 19-18, Miami is 2.5 games behind the Braves in the National League East. Miami also is 3-2 on the road trip, which started at Tampa Bay.

“I feel eager to get on the mound and pitch and help my team,” Sánchez said. “I want to help my team win and make the playoffs.”

Sánchez provided the heat on the mound, and the offense delivered some punch against Braves right-hander Kyle Wright, who surrendered five runs in four innings.

, and each went deep with impressive blasts. Joyce’s shot had an exit velocity of 106.2 mph (projected 386 feet). Alfaro uncorked a 415-foot drive at 105.9 mph, and Cooper’s two-run shot in the fourth inning was a missile at 109.3 mph (414).

After a game off, went 3-for-3 with an RBI, a run, a walk and a hit-by-pitch.

Anderson noted that the way Sánchez has pitched since being added to the rotation has eased the pressure off the offense.

“He's got electric stuff,” Anderson said. “He's going out there pitching his butt off every night. You know the pressure is not on us. We can just go out there and take our at-bats and just try to put something on the board, because you know he's going to keep putting up zeros. Offensively, it's just trying to get it going and trust the next guy.”

The Marlins have not had as much excitement over a rookie starting pitcher since the late José Fernández, who was the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2013.

“It's not quite like José, because José kind of seemed like he was a Lone Ranger a little bit,” Mattingly said. “He was one guy. Now, it's starting to be every guy.”

As dominant as Fernández was, the Marlins' overall rotation wasn’t as deep a few years ago as it is now.

Miami now has rookies like Sánchez and left-hander , along with 2019 All-Star , and .

“Sixto has been great, but you kind of look at each guy now as throwing the ball pretty good,” Mattingly said. “Nightly, your guys understand on the offensive side and defensive side that you're going to get a pretty good game. You've got a good chance if you catch the ball and put some runs up that you're in a pretty good spot.”