When the Braves scooped Anibal Sanchez off the unemployment line in mid-March, they were blunt about their intentions.
“We brought him in to get a look, see where he’s at,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s a depth piece. I mean, who knows? He might make our club. We’ll evaluate. He’s in shape.”
In a season not lacking pie-in-the-sky headlines, Sanchez stunning hitters with a “butterfly” pitch in route to putting up front-line starter numbers might be the most far-fetched reality.
The 34-year-old delivered a gem in Thursday’s 4-2 win over San Diego. He pitched seven shutout innings, allowing four hits, striking out four and walking none.
Manager Brian Snitker acknowledged he couldn’t have seen this coming (he’s undoubtedly not alone). Sanchez was a flier. The team signed him rolling the dice that he might have something, anything, left.
Behind the emerging Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz, Sanchez might be the team’s best starter, at least in the present.
“He looks great to me,” Snitker said. “That fastball’s got some hop on it. Pitchability and his feel for pitching, it’s fun to watch him. … He just knows what he’s doing. He has a lot of confidence in himself. He never gives in. He attacks hitters. His command’s been great. He’s been a welcomed guy here, that’s for sure.”
The latest victory pushed the Braves to 12 games over .500 for the first time since 2013, and continued the rotation’s surprising consistency. The group entered Thursday with a 3.41 ERA, fourth-best in the majors.
Sanchez has been a coup for an organization in transition. The delicate balance between win-now and being conservative with youth is difficult to achieve.
It requires some luck, and the Braves might’ve hit 7-7-7.
In seven appearances (six starts), Sanchez has allowed more than two runs once. He’s made three scoreless starts, including two seven-inning shutouts in his past three.
He’s earned a 1.93 ERA with 26 strikeouts against 11 walks in 30-1/3 innings.
“Every time you can have a good game, you feel good,” Sanchez said. “Right now, I’m prepared. I’m really focused on the mound and on what I’m going to do in the games. I just try to, right now, enjoy what I’m doing and like I said the other day, I just want to (pitch) a really good game and help the team win.”
And as the Braves rotation fills out, Mike Soroka returned Wednesday and Julio Teheran is expected back Sunday, it’d be borderline preposterous to remove Sanchez from the starting unit.
While Snitker hasn’t labeled it a six-man rotation, the combination of injuries, off-days and options has allowed the Braves such. And with two off-days next week, they won’t be rushed into a decision if they elect to stick with five men.
Sanchez didn’t address if he belonged in the rotation, opting to say he’s just thankful for the opportunity. But his manager knows the Braves will eventually have choices to make.
"We've got a good problem,” Snitker said. “We've got more starters than we can probably use right now. And that's something not a lot of teams can say. It’s going to be some tough decisions going forward, as everybody comes back healthy, just to see what we’re going to do.”
Snitker didn’t reject the notion of a six-man rotation. The Braves have time to ponder their options, and these occurrences often work themselves out.
“It’s just something we’re going to talk about every day and see after each game,” he said.
If Sanchez’s recent “every day” persists, that decision won’t get any easier.
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