'Alejo' picks up Nats in longest outing since '15

August 23rd, 2019

CHICAGO -- Anibal Sanchez arrived in town a day early, well ahead of the rest of his Nationals’ teammates who landed after 1 a.m. CT Friday following a game in Pittsburgh the night before. It’s customary for the starting pitcher to travel ahead of the team before such a quick turnaround, giving him a chance at a full night’s sleep.

It paid off for Sanchez, who delivered his best start of the season as the Nationals' offense continued to stay hot. It made it hard to tell which team was sleep-deprived Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, as Washington broke out for 14 hits and Sanchez carried a one-hitter into the ninth inning, leading the Nats to a 9-3 rout over the Cubs.

Sanchez, wearing a "Sanchy" jersey for Players' Weekend, nearly outhit the Cubs by himself, collecting two hits in a game for the first time since 2006 while giving up just one hit in 8 1/3 innings, his longest outing since June 2015.

“I know the situation, and I’m trying to go as deep into the game as I can,” Sanchez said. “Thank God that I got the opportunity to be into the ninth inning.”

This start continued what has been one of the best stretches of Sanchez’s career, a complete turnaround after a rough beginning to the season. He dropped his first six straight decisions to start the year before landing on the injured list with a left hamstring strain, a disastrous start for one of the Nationals’ biggest additions during the winter.

Since his return from the injured list on May 29, however, Sanchez is riding a career-best eight game winning streak, lowering his ERA from 5.10 to 3.81.

“Everybody talks about [Max] Scherzer, [Stephen] Strasburg, [Patrick] Corbin, Anibal is just as important to us as anybody,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “When these guys go out there on the mound, we've got a chance to win every day. And that's good, the boys feed off of that.”

Sanchez made it easy to feed off of his performance Friday.

It started at the plate, where he went 2-for-3 with his first RBI since April 2014, on a perfectly placed bunt down the third-base line with the bases loaded in the fourth inning.

“It was impressive,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “You saw him hit last year. It wasn’t very good. But I think 'Scherz' got a hold of him. Got him in the cage. Start raking. 'Cause if you’re going to be part of this staff, you’ve got to hit. 'Cause this staff can hit.”

And this rotation can pitch, and Sanchez was at his best on the mound. He mixed in seven different pitches through his 112-pitch outing, striking out six and retiring all but four of the 28 batters he faced.

“It’s like all his pitches, you never know what he’s gonna do,” left fielder Juan Soto said. “Is he gonna surprise you with a fastball, is he going to throw the butterfly? It’s going to be tough. Every time he’s on the mound, I like it.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon added: “Their guy was really good. We got Kyle Hendricks this afternoon. We know what it's like to be in the other dugout now. He was that good. He was that sharp.”

Sanchez even had an opportunity for his first shutout since 2015, returning for the ninth inning with 98 pitches, although he ultimately fell short of the bid thanks to an unearned run after an error from Anthony Rendon.

Martinez pulled Sanchez from the game shortly after the shutout bid was over, but he gave the Nats everything they needed Friday, which is becoming routine for him every time he takes the mound.

“He picked us up,” Martinez said. “We come in here after a late night last night, show and go day today, and he went out there and just held them down to basically nothing. That was awesome.”