Sánchez, Burger adjust and shine in the desert

May 26th, 2024

PHOENIX -- When things are going tough on the baseball diamond, players will do just about anything to get back on track.

For , it was "ripping tubes" on the water slide at the team hotel during Thursday's off-day. For right-hander , it was improving his pre-start routine.

Though the Marlins dropped Saturday night's game to the D-backs, 3-2, at Chase Field, that duo showed encouraging signs. Burger notched his first three-hit game since Opening Day, while Sánchez completed five innings for the first time since Oct. 2, 2020, in Game 2 of the National League Wild Card Series.

Through the first two games of this series, Burger has five hits in eight at-bats with a double and a homer. On Saturday, he recorded two of the three hardest-hit balls. Miami hopes Burger, who recorded his first 30-homer season in 2023, can heat up like fellow middle-of-the-order bat Josh Bell did in May.

Here's a look at some reasons behind Burger's struggles, comparing his numbers before this series to 2023:

  • 55.1 vs. 42.9 percent ground-ball rate -- his increase is the fifth largest among qualified hitters from last season to this season
  • .140 vs. .284 BABIP -- MLB-low since May 6 among all hitters with 50 plate appearances during that span
  • Exit velo (88.9 mph), hard-hit rate (39.5) and barrel rate (4.7) were at or below league average vs. exit velo (91.9 mph, 98th percentile), hard-hit rate (49.6, 91st percentile) and barrel rate (16.7, 98th percentile)
  • 22.5 vs. 33.4 percent sweet-spot rate -- fifth-highest decrease among qualifying batters

It has been a combination of things for Burger. He's coming off a rotational injury, so he made mechanical tweaks. On top of that, Burger was letting his head go forward and not holding his backside longer. When Burger does that, he must decide earlier and swing at more pitches out of the zone. Then there's controlling his emotions.

"When you see a number that you don't want to see in a certain area, you feel the tendency to press a little more," said Burger, who entered the series 6-for-59 (.102) with one extra-base hit, one walk and 16 strikeouts since his return from the injured list on May 6. "It was a conversation I had with [manager] Skip [Schumaker] just, 'Slow the game down. You're not going to bump it to .250 overnight. It's a slow process, and if you win each pitch every single day when you look back at it at the end of the season, you're probably going to like where it's at.'"

Speaking of conversations, Schumaker challenged Sánchez, whose first-inning troubles (MLB-high 19.80 ERA) are well-documented, six days ago.

So Sánchez went to the gym, training room and the playing field earlier. He began throwing with intent in his pregame bullpen, trying to simulate game speed so that he was ready when he took the mound. After two shoulder surgeries, Sánchez learned he must warm up differently.

Sánchez surrendered consecutive two-out RBI doubles in a 28-pitch first, where he got ahead of five of six batters but still tallied a trio of three-ball counts. He worked too much on the edges, and his slider wasn't breaking enough. But his velocity maxed out at 95.8 mph, an encouraging sign.

"It's been difficult three years without pitching," Sánchez said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. "It's not something that easy, but you know, I have to give all I've got out there on the mound and not only there, but also on the routine and the workouts I do. Every time I do my long toss, bullpen sessions, any of those training and workouts that I do, I have to do my best."

Something appeared to click as Sánchez allowed just a sacrifice fly over the subsequent four frames. He tallied 71 percent first-pitch strikes. After the first, he was on the attack by raising the eye level with the fastball and down below with the changeup.

"It shows what he can do when he warms up properly and trains between starts properly and gives himself a chance to help the team win," Schumaker said. "[It's] all we ask for, and I think he did a really good job taking what we've been giving him the last couple of weeks and applying it. Again, a tough environment, tough team, five innings, three runs kept us in the game, gave it to our bullpen. I thought it was a really good outing for Sixto, and something that we can move forward with in a positive way."