WASHINGTON -- Aníbal Sánchez changed his uniform number back to 19 -- the digits he has worn for the majority of his 16-year career -- and then he turned back the clock.
Sánchez, 38, tossed seven frames, his longest outing since Aug. 23, 2020, on Wednesday in the Nationals' 5-1 victory over the A’s at Nats Park. He allowed three hits, three walks, one run on a home run and recorded four strikeouts to earn his first win of the season (1-5).
"I know at the beginning of this season that looked like it was impossible,” Sánchez said. “Today, I felt really good. Something I did was try to throw more strikes than normal to get quick outs. The other thing was, I don't think I've ever faced so many righties in one lineup [eight of nine starters]. I tried to not make a mistake. I tried to execute to get everyone to make quick outs."
Entering the game, Sánchez’s longest outing of the season was 5 2/3 innings, across eight starts. Manager Dave Martinez had reiterated Sánchez had more to show, citing his work ethic and drive to succeed after sitting out last year and earning his way into the starting rotation on a Minor League deal.
“He’s a guy that’s been around, that’s pitched in a lot of playoff games, World Series games, and he’s done well,” Martinez said. “I knew he still had it in him; I saw him this winter throwing. He’s passionate about coming back, and his heart was in it.”
Sánchez’s late-season surge comes after missing the first 90 games of 2022 with a cervical nerve impingement. But with a lengthy career that includes a no-hitter, an ERA title, a 113-118 record and a 4.07 ERA, his resume speaks for itself.
“He’s a crafty right-hander that’s been around forever,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “He didn’t throw much in the middle and used his pitches. That’s what veterans do. He had a younger lineup in there that he took advantage of a little bit. We didn’t really swing the bats very well until the ninth inning.”
Sánchez is setting a proven example on a team developing its core for the future. His performance on Wednesday offered learning lessons for starters like Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore.
“It’s honestly pretty impressive,” said veteran Luke Voit. “For him to go out there and just attack guys, he’s a tough guy. He’s got five pitches, you can’t really sit on anything. … Hopefully, these young guys were watching that even in tough times [in games], you can always get out of it.”
For all the numbers that illustrate Sánchez’s success against Oakland, there is something to be said for the role his uniform number had, too.
“It’s giving me a little extra energy today,” he said with a smile.
Sánchez entered the league donning No. 36 on the Marlins from 2006-08. He switched to No. 19 in ‘09 and he wore it for 11 seasons, including ‘19-20 with the Nationals. When Sánchez re-signed with Washington in March, Josh Bell already was wearing No. 19. Sánchez picked No. 27, and after Bell was traded to the Padres on Aug. 2, he was presented with the opportunity to reunite with the familiar jersey.
“This is the number that I’ve been my whole career,” Sánchez said. “Being together, I think we’ve got a really good match.”