LOS ANGELES -- Anibal Sanchez is not done.
He's definitely changed his approach and it could not have come at a better time.
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The veteran Braves right-hander has increased the use of his cut fastball and stopped throwing his sinker as often, and it's one of the reasons he has gone from wondering if he would ever get a job during the offseason to starting Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Friday at Dodger Stadium against Clayton Kershaw.
After the Dodgers jumped all over starter Mike Foltynewicz's fastball in Los Angeles' 6-0 win in Game 1 on Thursday, Sanchez's new approach might serve him very well. It might even make him a secret weapon in a rotation where down the stretch, he seemed like the No. 3 starter behind Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman.
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Sanchez threw his cutter 20.2 percent of the time this season after throwing the pitch only 7.3 percent of the time in 2017. By contrast, he threw his sinker 7.8 percent of the time in '18 after throwing the pitch 23.4 percent last year. Dodgers hitters went deep against a pair of fastballs and a changeup on Thursday night.
For the year, Sanchez's results speak for themselves. Hitters had a .208 batting average and slugged .324 against his cutter -- by comparison, they sported a .326 batting average and slugged .465 against the sinker during the regular season in 2018.
How the Dodgers respond to Sanchez's cutter on Friday could be one of the keys to the game. Los Angeles ranked 28th in the Major Leagues this year against cut fastballs with a .205 batting average.
"I feel like I have grown as a player, as a teammate and as a player," Sanchez said in Spanish. "My wife really helped me during a negative time in the offseason. I was wondering if I could continue or was going to get another opportunity. Everybody knows how the offseason went for free agents and it was difficult to stay positive."
This is how Sanchez got here. The Tigers paid his $5 million buyout instead of exercising his $16 million option for 2018. He signed with Twins in February, was released, and he signed with the Braves the next month. On Wednesday during the workout before Game 1, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos joked he knew he Sanchez was a Cy Young Award candidate and couldn't believe he was signing him on a Minor League deal.
But the reality is, there were a lot of reasons the Braves were willing to gamble on Sanchez for a spot in the rotation or the bullpen. His velocity was down, but he still missed bats. He still played good defense, and there was hope the shift from the American League to the NL would serve him well.
The Braves knew Sanchez could still execute a game plan, and in the end, there was just too much upside to not give him a chance. He passed a two-outing tryout in Spring Training and never looked back.
"From what we have seen this year, we feel good about him any time he takes the mound," Anthopoulos said. "He's not going to scare. He's going to throw strikes and change speeds. It's hard when he's doing it the entire year to not buy in. I think the performance is real."
Sanchez finished 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 136 2/3 innings in the regular season. His 24.4-percent strikeout rate and 7.6-percent walk rate ranked him among the top half of all pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched.