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Sanchez, bullpen, Suzuki boost Nationals

3 takeaways from Washington's series-clinching victory in San Francisco
@JamalCollier
August 7, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Nationals arrived to Oracle Park this week losers of three straight series and seven of their past 10 games with their best pitcher on the injured list. It was the first bit of adversity facing Washington in months, and once again, the Nats have shown they

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Nationals arrived to Oracle Park this week losers of three straight series and seven of their past 10 games with their best pitcher on the injured list. It was the first bit of adversity facing Washington in months, and once again, the Nats have shown they are capable of picking themselves up quickly.

Washington has responded with victories in their first two games against the Giants, including a 5-3 victory here Tuesday night that secured a series win.

“We've had some good pitching, starting pitching, we've got the runs we've needed and our bullpen's coming in and doing a great job,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We're playing good baseball right now. We hit a little lapse there for a minute and now we're back on track and let's keep it going.”

Box score

Here are three takeaways following the Nats’ latest win Tuesday:

Sanchez stays on a roll

Much of the hype coming into the season about the Nationals rotation centered around the big three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. It turns out Aníbal Sánchez has given the Nats rotation a big four.

After a rocky start to the season, Sanchez has been all the Nationals could have hoped for since they signed him as a free agent this winter. He has consistently spun outings that resembled his start Tuesday, when he required just 87 pitches to spin six innings of two-run ball. This outing continued a stellar run for Sanchez, which began once he returned from the injured list on May 29. Since then, Sanchez has made 12 starts and posted a 2.82 ERA with a 55-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This win marked his seventh consecutive victory, which matches a career high.

“I think after I came from the IL, just trying to stay ahead in the count most of the time,” Sanchez said. “I think early most of the time, fighting with my location hurt me early in the season but now ... attack the strike zone, hit the corners and prepare my game.”

Sanchez is one of the pitchers the Nats will count on in the absence of Scherzer, currently on the IL as he battles a back injury that won’t go away. The Nationals are filling two spots in their rotation on the fly, making it more critical that Sanchez pitches deep into games whenever possible.

Bullpen options on display

Perhaps most encouraging for Martinez was not just which relievers were able to lock down the late innings of Tuesday’s win, but which relievers he was able to stay away from with confidence the job still could get done. After six innings from Sanchez, Martinez turned the game over to Hunter Strickland, Fernando Rodney and Sean Doolittle, who completed the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, respectively, to seal the victory.

And Martinez was able to stay away from Daniel Hudson, who had pitched in three straight games, or Wander Suero, who has carried a heavy recent workload, and still trust the rest of his bullpen to get the job done.

“When things are clicking as a bullpen and you feel like you’re really doing it as a group, that’s what it’s about, getting the ball to the next guy,” Doolittle said. “You try not to leave a mess for the guy behind you. But you really want to pick your teammates up. You want to feed off what they did. It’s been good. It feels like as a group, we’ve been doing better.

“It feels good just to have a little bit more flexibility, so we can share the load more as a group.”

Suzuki carries catching production

The catching position had been an issue in Washington for two years. No team in the Majors got worse production from its backstops (-2.9 Wins Above Replacement, per Fangraphs) from 2017-18 than the Nationals. That’s why they went out and acquired two catchers this winter to fill the void, trading for Yan Gomes from Cleveland and signing Kurt Suzuki as a free agent, with plans to have them split playing time behind the dish.

Suzuki has held up his end of the bargain so far, with his offensive production good enough to elevate him to primary starter. He went 3-for-4 in this game, providing a two-run homer in the third inning to help lead the Nats to victory. He matched his home run total (12) from all of last season with about 150 fewer plate appearances, and he is hitting .268/.330/.474 with a 104 wRC+ on the year at 35 years old.

“I don’t know, luck,” Suzuki said. “A lot of luck. ... I shave my face, try to be younger. I don’t know. The one thing, I try to take care of my body, try to work out, take care of your body, eat healthy, do all the things that you do to keep yourself healthy in the game. But I think a lot of luck has to do with it, too.”

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.