WASHINGTON -- For years, Anibal Sanchez had been a thorn in the side of the Nationals. Over the span of his 13-year career, he has appeared in 26 games (25 starts) against Washington and twirled a 2.08 ERA while limiting the Nats' hitters to a .605 OPS during that span.Sanchez
WASHINGTON -- For years, Anibal Sanchez had been a thorn in the side of the Nationals. Over the span of his 13-year career, he has appeared in 26 games (25 starts) against Washington and twirled a 2.08 ERA while limiting the Nats' hitters to a .605 OPS during that span.
Sanchez could not fully explain his success against the Nationals, but he did acknowledge how much he has admired pitching against such a competitive team throughout the years and how excited he was to officially join the club on Thursday, when the Nats announced Sanchez signed a two-year deal, along with a team option for 2021.
"Thanks to the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo to give me that opportunity to have that chance to play with this team for that many years," Sanchez said during a conference call on Thursday. "For me, it's a grateful blessing to have this deal with this team, because at my age and for my career, for me, it's really, really important."
According to a source, the deal is worth $19 million overall, but will pay Sanchez $6 million next season and $7 million in 2020, with the final $6 million deferred until 2021, when the Nats also have a $12 club option.
Sanchez arrives as the latest addition to a revamped Nationals rotation, which was also improved this month with the addition of Patrick Corbin, and effectively becomes the replacement for Tanner Roark, who was traded to the Reds earlier this month. With Roark due for a substantial raise to his salary via arbitration next season after a few up-and-down years, the Nationals bet that they could trade Roark to replace him with a pitcher that carries more upside at a cheaper price.
They settled on Sanchez, who will turn 35 before the start of 2019, after he put together one of his best seasons in years. He posted a 2.83 ERA and a career-low 1.08 WHIP with 135 strikeouts in 136 2/3 innings while helping the Braves to the 2018 National League East crown. It was a drastic bounceback after Sanchez struggled with consistency and injuries during recent years with the Tigers, but one made thanks to a key adjustment in pitch mix.
Sanchez's fastball velocity had dipped from its average at 93.0 mph in 2013 to 90.7 mph in 2018, so he responded by cutting down its usage (47.3 percent in '13 to 38 percent last year). He combined that with switching from a slider (11.6 percent in '17 to 5.4 percent in '18) to a cutter (8.7 percent in '17 to 22.5 percent in '18). It paid dividends.
"I just prepared for my games better," Sanchez said. "I see that it's not important for me to throw harder, because I can locate better."
The catcher Sanchez worked with to make these adjustments last season, Kurt Suzuki, is now on the Nationals roster. The team has not revealed much about how Suzuki and Yan Gomes will split time at catcher, but Sanchez's comfort with Suzuki will almost certainly have a part in determining playing time.
"That's a big thing for me," Sanchez said. "Especially because of the way I pitched in 2018, Suzuki was involved in everything. In every change that I made, every sequence that we worked for, Suzuki was really involved."
The Nationals are counting on Sanchez to help revive their rotation next season, slotting him behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin and alongside Joe Ross as the likely fifth starter to fill out what should be one of the strongest starting staffs in the NL. Sanchez certainly carries risk because of his age and injury history, but if he can further his successes from last season, the Nats could have a steal. If he shows his age or gets hurt, however, the Nats might regret shipping away the reliably durable Roark.
So, the Nats are taking a chance on Sanchez, betting that his 2018 resurgence was no fluke.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.