Anibal Sanchez’s second spring start for the Braves wasn’t as impressive as his first, but the veteran pitcher looked good enough to help the Braves as a starter or long reliever if and when the need arises.
Sanchez was charged with seven hits, three runs and one walk with four strikeouts in five innings of Friday’s 11-3 loss against the Tigers, a game that was tied before Braves pitcher Matt Wisler was rocked for six hits and seven runs without recording an out in the seventh inning.
Sanchez, 34, signed a minor-league contract March 16 after he was released by the Twins. In the right-hander’s first start for the Braves he gave up six hits, two runs and one walk in four innings against the Astros, tossing his hat into the race for one of the final spots on the opening-day roster.
“I thought it was pretty good, same thing he did the other day,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Friday’s outing, in which Snitker counted only three hits on hard-hit balls against Sanchez. “He just pitches. Competes, pitches, knows what he’s doing. ”
Freddie Freeman went 2-for-2 with a two-run homer for the Braves, raising his average to .341 with four doubles, two homers and a .977 OPS in 41 at-bats.
Sanchez gave up a whopping 85 homers in 415 2/3 innings over the past three seasons with the Tigers, including 26 homers in 105 1/3 innings in 2017.
“One of the reasons that I came here was to have the opportunity to pitch in the major league camp. It’s a better way to show what I can do, especially for preparation for the season,” Sanchez said. “Keep the ball on the ground, keep the ball on the field. I know I had a lot of problems with homers before, but I kept those balls inside the park (Friday), that’s pretty good.”
The Braves are expected to open with one or two long relievers in an eight-men bullpen. There are indications that veteran lefty Scott Kazmir will have one of those spots and be in line to start when the Braves use a fifth starter for the first time, probably April 10 in the 11th game of the season but possibly a couple of days sooner.
That might leave only one spot in the bullpen, with Sanchez, lefty Rex Brothers (who’s not a long reliever) and Aaron Blair among candidates. The Braves have two more Grapefruit League games in Florida this weekend and likely will wait to finalize the roster after they get to Atlanta for exhibition games at SunTrust Park on Monday and Tuesday.
They have an off day Wednesday before opening the regular season Thursday at home against the Phillies.
Sanchez faced some former teammates Friday after spending the past six seasons with the Tigers, splitting time between their rotation and bullpen the past two seasons. When asked if he would be willing to pitch out of the Braves bullpen or in Triple-A, Sanchez said he hasn’t talked to Braves management about those possibilities.
His contract includes a $1 million salary if he’s in the major leagues and $20,000 monthly in the minors. There is no opt-out clause, unlike some deals with veterans who ask for an opt-out to allow them to leave if they’re not on a major league roster by a specific date, usually early summer.
Because he’s on a minor league deal, Sanchez can be sent down without going through waivers.
“I only want to think about what I can control,” he said. “I don’t want to think about the situations that (exist). I have to do a good job, pitch good. And today I felt good. I don’t want to put any kind of pressure on myself on any decision they’re going to make. ... Let’s see what decision they’re going to make.
“Right now I feel good. The good thing is I’m able to throw 70-plus pitches and show I can be there.”
Whether Kazmir or someone else gets the fifth-starter job in early April, it might only entail three or four starts before rookie Luiz Gohara is ready to come off the DL. Gohara will start the season on the DL recovering from a sprained ankle sustained early in camp. The big lefty has begun throwing off a mound, but will need to throw live batting practice and then a progression of rehab starts before he’s ready, which could be as soon as late April, Snitker predicted.
Wisler and Lucas Sims were other possibilities for long relief or spot-starting, but Sims stumbled in each of his past two outings, including Thursday vs. the Cardinals, and Wisler had his second poor performance in his past three outings.
Wisler entered a 3-3 game to start the seventh inning and allowed consecutive singles followed by a ground-rule RBI double, a two-run single by Alex Amarista, another single, a two-run double by James McCann and a walk before being replaced. Wisler’s ERA climbed to 8.10 including 15 hits and 12 runs allowed in 6 1/3 innings over his past three games.