What had been a torrid strikeout pace for Sanchez before he went on the disabled list last month has cooled. He had nine games with eight strikeouts or more over his first 12 starts, but hasn't topped six strikeouts in five starts since his return from a right shoulder strain.
"I think that's a good thing," manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday morning. "I think he got a little strikeout conscious for a while. We tried to get him away from that. We're hoping he gets sharper each start back."
Tuesday's mastery against the Nationals came almost entirely on balls put in play. Beyond the strikeout total, Sanchez recorded just six strikes on swings and misses, according to baseball-reference.com. Half of those came on his slider, with just one on his fastball, according to data from MLB.com's Gameday app.
The six swings-and-misses marked Sanchez's third-lowest total of the season, trailing his season-opening start in Minnesota and his injury-shortened start on June 15.
Both of those outings featured more strikeouts than Tuesday, in large part because Sanchez had more called strikes. His 10 called strikes on Tuesday marked his second-lowest total of the season, behind only his May 18 start in Texas that lasted just 2 2/3 innings.
At one point, Leyland said Wednesday morning that Sanchez's control hasn't been as sharp since his return from the DL. He quickly amended that, though, to acknowledge a flip side to the argument and a debate he has had with pitching coach Jeff Jones.
"I really can't figure out whether his control hasn't been quite as good, or whether they're just not swinging at as many balls as they did before," Leyland said. "I don't really know the answer."
Scouting reports evolve over a season. That same fastball from Sanchez that Nationals hitters shrugged off on Tuesday has induced 83 swings and misses out of the strike zone this season, according to STATS.