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Historic Astros debut for Sanchez: Combo no-no

@brianmctaggart
August 4, 2019

HOUSTON -- Have you heard the one where the Astros take a starting pitcher from another team, change his pitch usage and approach and watch him take his career to the next level? Wait until you hear the ending. Veteran starter Aaron Sanchez, who was traded from the Blue Jays

HOUSTON -- Have you heard the one where the Astros take a starting pitcher from another team, change his pitch usage and approach and watch him take his career to the next level?

Wait until you hear the ending.

Veteran starter Aaron Sanchez, who was traded from the Blue Jays on Wednesday, had a gangbusters debut in an Astros uniform when he combined with three relievers to throw the 12th no-hitter in franchise history in a 9-0 wipeout of the Mariners on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.

Box score

Sanchez, who left Toronto with a 6.07 ERA and 1.69 WHIP, held the Mariners hitless for six innings. He watched relievers Will Harris, Joe Biagini and Chris Devenski finish off the second combined no-hitter thrown against Seattle this year. The Angels did it on July 12.

“It’s hard to come to a team and feel like you can contribute in a way when they’re already so good,” Sanchez said. “It’s been an unbelievable 48 hours, and for today to end like it did, I’m so happy.”

The Astros have won 13 of their past 16 games to improve to 72-40, their best record after 112 games.

The no-hitter was Houston’s first since Mike Fiers no-hit the Dodgers in 2015 and it was the club’s second combined no-hitter. The other came on June 11, 2003, when Roy Oswalt, Pete Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner did it at Yankee Stadium.

All 12 Astros no-hitters in history

“It couldn’t have worked out any better for us when it came to the matchups that we got at the end, and the little energy in the building because of what was at stake,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “We played clean defense, we threw the ball exceptionally well. We had a comfortable lead, but yet there was still a little bit of edge to the dugout because we knew what was going on.”

When Devenski got Daniel Vogelbach to fly to Josh Reddick in right field for the final out of the game, the Astros spilled out of the dugout and jumped around to celebrate in the middle of the field.

“When I saw Vogelbach hit it in the air and Redd catch it and everyone came running at me, it was pretty cool,” Devenski said.

The no-hitter capped off an unforgettable week for the Astros, who grabbed headlines Wednesday when they pulled off four trades, including a blockbuster move to get Zack Greinke from the D-backs the same day they landed Sanchez and Biagini from Toronto. Prior to Saturday’s game, the club held its inaugural Hall of Fame induction, which honored no-hit king Nolan Ryan along with Mike Scott and Larry Dierker, who also threw no-hitters with Houston.

“It was a great day for the organization to be able to tip our caps to the guys before us,” Hinch said. “I think it’s important for today’s players to check out the history of the Astros and the Colt .45’s. … Historic names in this franchise’s history and, in the no-so-distant future, those names are going to be Jose Altuve and George Springer and many others. It was a great day in this organization.”

The Astros acquired Sanchez to be their fifth starter behind Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Greinke and Wade Miley in a rotation that made them perhaps the favorite to win the World Series, but no one could have expected this from Sanchez.

Or could they?

With Cole and Verlander dishing out advice, pitching coach Brent Strom working his magic and the heavy presence of analytics, the Astros have an impressive track record of acquiring arms, retooling them and watching them blossom. Collin McHugh, Harris, Charlie Morton, Cole and Ryan Pressly are examples of Houston’s mastery in the last few years.

“I want to credit Aaron Sanchez more than I credit the magic dust we sometimes sprinkle on these guys,” Hinch said.

Still, the changes in Sanchez’s repertoire were evident. He threw more curveballs and four-seam fastballs, which is the same strategy that allowed Cole, Morton and others to thrive. Only four qualifying pitchers had a higher spin rate on their curveball entering Saturday than Sanchez, who threw 27 curveballs from his 92 pitches (29 percent). He had thrown only 22 percent curveballs entering the game.

“It’s pretty sharp all night,” Sanchez said. “I threw a lot more than I had in previous starts, which helped me a ton. I wouldn't say they said throw it more. I’m back there in the game plan that [catcher Martin Maldonado] and I have, and you just try to follow the situation. The situation I guess tonight called for me to throw the curveball. It was a good pitch."

Of the 27 curveballs thrown by Sanchez, he got five swinging strikes, six called strikes, three foul balls and two balls that were put in play, which had an average exit velocity of 61.4-mph. He retired 18 of the 21 batters he faced, allowing two walks and striking out six.

“It’s A-plus,” Hinch said. “It’s an incredible, incredible breaking ball. We’ve had a few good ones in my time here. It’s a great pitch for him, especially when he lands it for a strike.”

Did you know? Astros' combined no-hitter

The changes were noticed by Mariners manager Scott Servais.

"Sanchez pitched different tonight than he typically does," he said. "Going into the game, we know what Houston likes their guys to do. He quickly jumped on board with what they like to do over there, and he got results tonight. You’ve got to give him credit. He was riding more four-seamers up in the zone. Typically he’s been more two-seam down. But he did a good job tonight.”

There was no way, Hinch said, that he was going to let Sanchez start the seventh with 92 pitches thrown. He had thrown 100 or more only four times in his previous 23 starts.

“My responsibility is to take care of him, take care of our team, take care of the pursuit to win the division,” he said.

Harris said he was aware of the no-hitter, but he didn’t feel any extra pressure considering it was the seventh inning.

“For me, it’s like giving up a single in the seventh, that probably happens quite often in baseball,” he said. “I knew Aaron was doing his thing and I knew the situation, but I didn’t feel any added real pressure there in the seventh inning.”

Biagini did his best to block out the no-hitter, as well.

“At the end of the day, as they say, I try to remember how great of a blessing it is to get a chance to do this. If you train your mind to think that way, it’s really no pressure at all,” he said. “You still want to contribute in this way and it’s fun to share. I’ve never been part of something like this before.”

With the crowd hanging on each pitch, Devenski got Kyle Seager to ground out to start the ninth before striking out Omar Narvaez. Vogelbach, an All-Star who’s hit 26 homers this year, lofted a 3-2 changeup to right field for the final out.

“I kind of looked up when I was walking in from the bullpen and saw a ‘0’ up there,” Devenski said. “I had to step off the mound and take a step back and gather myself. Going out there and being able to finish this, with these groups of guys, is something that’s going to live on forever. I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.