Anibal Sanchez impresses in (unscheduled) first start for Braves

Two days after signing a minor-league deal with the Braves, Anibal Sanchez was tossed into fire against the defending world champions.

He went four innings and allowed two runs against an Astros lineup featuring several regulars. He struck out two and walked one on 55 pitches (37 strikes).

Sanchez was expected to debut on Sunday, though not as a starter. Scott Kazmir was scratched because of a freak minor jaw injury, putting the team's newest acquisition out there from pitch one.

“Everything came out good,” said Sanchez, who made his first start of the spring after two relief appearances with the Twins. “Especially considering I’d had two weeks, a week-and-a-half since I’d pitched in a game. Command-wise, it was right there. Communication with (catcher Kurt) Suzuki was there.”

Sanchez’s debut inning couldn’t have gone much better. He got George Springer to ground out to third on the first pitch, induced a Josh Reddick fly out and forced American League batting champion Jose Altuve to ground out.

The 34-year-old threw just six pitches in the first. His velocity hovered in the low 90s throughout the afternoon.

“He was maneuvering,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You can tell the guy knows how to pitch. He can change speeds, use both sides of the plate. He’s been pitching very well for a long time. The stuff probably isn’t the power he once had, but he knows what he’s doing.”

After Carlos Correa began the second with a single, Sanchez struck out Marwin Gonzalez looking and got Alex Bregman and Tyler White on a fly out and pop up, respectively.

Sanchez walked Jake Marisnick with one out in the fourth. Springer singled, but right fielder Danny Santana gunned down Marisnick at third to lessen the trouble.

Reddick reached on catcher’s interference, but Sanchez again got Altuve to ground out and end the inning.

The heart of the Astros order finally burned Sanchez in the fifth. He gave up back-to-back singles to Correa and Gonzalez before Bregman doubled. White’s sacrifice fly brought home a second run.

“A ground ball found the hole,” Sanchez said. “But those guys, they got contact.”

With two on and one out, Marisnick lined into a double play to end Sanchez’s outing.

“Those guys are really good,” Sanchez said. “I tried to keep them off-balance.”

The reality is Sanchez has a short time to make a meaningful impression. Opening day is 11 days away.

“I don’t know, different situation,” Snitker said. “I guess we’ll just go with a while and see.”

Sanchez’s Braves tenure is already an improvement on his cup of coffee with the Twins. Sanchez made just two appearances, giving up six earned runs in four innings.

The Braves signed Sanchez less than a week after Minnesota released him to make room for signee Lance Lynn. Sanchez was competing for a rotation spot with the Twins.

And now he’s competing for either the fifth spot in the Braves rotation or a long-reliever role; he doesn’t care which.

“I try not to think too much,” Sanchez said. “I just go out there and have fun, get those (hitters) quickly and get out of the inning as quickly as I can.”