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Tucker's 3-run HR backs Sanchez's strong start

April 13, 2018

CHICAGO -- Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos got a late start when he joined the organization in mid-November. But his team's early-season success is heavily attributable to the quality depth he gained with under-the-radar acquisitions like Preston Tucker, Ryan Flaherty and Anibal Sanchez.With top prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. waiting for

CHICAGO -- Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos got a late start when he joined the organization in mid-November. But his team's early-season success is heavily attributable to the quality depth he gained with under-the-radar acquisitions like Preston Tucker, Ryan Flaherty and Anibal Sanchez.
With top prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. waiting for his call and Johan Camargo on the disabled list, the Braves have won eight of their first 12 games with the assistance of Tucker and Flaherty, who teamed with Ozzie Albies to provide Sanchez all the support he needed during Friday afternoon's 4-0 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
"When we get a couple more guys up here, our bench is going to be even stronger," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "You're going to go through injuries in a year and you need those guys to fill in and do a great job. [Flaherty and Tucker] have been doing a fantastic job for us the first couple weeks. They're pretty much winning ballgames by themselves out there."
As Sanchez moved toward completing six scoreless innings, Tucker provided the big offensive blow with the two-out, three-run homer he hit off a rattled Yu Darivsh in the fifth. The 27-year-old outfielder has hit .308 (12-for-39) with three homers and a .939 OPS. Not bad for a guy who was designated for assignment by the Astros in December and who also entered the season knowing he might just keep the left-field position warm until Acuna arrives.

"I haven't thought about that," Tucker said. "As long as my name keeps getting penciled in the lineup, I'm going to try to help us win ballgames."
Darvish surrendered nine hits and issued four walks while allowing four earned runs over 4 2/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed at least four runs and lasted less than five innings in two of the three starts he's made since signing a six-year, $126 million contract in February.
"Their pitcher had us off balance the entire game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He doesn't throw as hard as he used to but he really knows how to pitch. He pitched well but we have to do a better job offensively."
Sanchez was also backed by a three-hit performance by Flaherty, who has recorded four multi-hit games (one fewer than his total from the 2015 and '16 seasons combined) since signing with the Braves on the final day of Spring Training. He may continue to get more reps than initially expected, even after Camargo returns from the DL.
"[The depth] has been good and it's been something we haven't had in a while," Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Instead of just giving Scott Kazmir a chance to briefly keep the rotation spot earmarked for the injured Luiz Gohara, Anthopoulos was willing to eat Kazmir's $16 million contract and give the Braves a better option with Sanchez, who signed a Minor League deal after being released by the Twins during Spring Training.
As Sanchez notched six strikeouts and allowed just three hits (all singles) over his six scoreless innings, he looked more like the guy who notched 17 strikeouts against the Braves in 2013 than he did the guy who produced a 5.67 ERA over the past three seasons.
"I've seen the opportunity I have with this club and it's a blessing," Sanchez said. "I got in late with the team and they gave me the opportunity to be here. I just want to do my best and put all my efforts and knowledge into the games."
Dual threat: Albies made a pair of impressive defensive plays behind Sanchez and he continued to be an offensive catalyst as he delivered a pair of doubles, including one that sparked the four-run fifth. The speedy second baseman advanced to third base on a balk and scored the game's first run when Darvish unleashed a wild pitch.
Multifaceted Ozzie Albies provides spark in win
"He's unbelievable offensively and defensively," Tucker said. "He's a stud all around. We expect him to do damage all year and play Gold Glove-caliber defense as well."

Escape act: Sanchez walked Jason Heyward to begin the bottom of the third inning and then hit Kristopher Bryant with a pitch to load the bases with two outs. He then induced a Willson Contreras slow roller that shortstop Dansby Swanson fielded in the grass before firing to first base to end the inning.
The Cubs produced a 76.2 mph average exit velocity with the 14 balls put in play against Sanchez. This stands as the lowest average exit velo surrendered by the right-hander in any start he has made dating back to the start of the 2015 season.
Each of Tucker's three home runs have traveled essentially the same distance per Statcast™. He hit a 397-foot shot against Nationals right-hander A.J. Cole on April 3 and a 395-foot shot against Max Scherzer the next afternoon. His homer against Darvish on Friday traveled a projected 396 feet.
"We've been trying to work on the touch pass over the middle, the Kenny Stabler thing. But if you saw the replay, the runner was way inside the line. Under those circumstances, I would encourage the catcher to try to hit the runner because he's that far in. We need to work on downshifting a bit on the throw." -- Maddon, on the errant throw catcher Contreras made after Sanchez bunted and was ruled out because of baserunner interference in the fourth inning.

Coming off the most efficient start of his young career, Sean Newcomb will attempt to once again show his potential when the Braves and Cubs resume their series Saturday at 2:20 p.m. ET. Newcomb recorded nine strikeouts over six scoreless innings against the Rockies at Coors Field on Sunday. This marked the first time in 21 career starts he did not issue a walk.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for