Sanchez snaps winless streak with impressive start for Braves

Braves veteran Anibal Sanchez pitched six scoreless innings for the win Friday against the Cubs. (AP Photo/Matt Marton) </p>
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Braves veteran Anibal Sanchez pitched six scoreless innings for the win Friday against the Cubs. (AP Photo/Matt Marton) </p>

Credit: Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Credit: Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Before Friday veteran pitcher Anibal Sanchez hadn’t won a game since Aug. 1, but you might have a hard time convincing his Braves teammates.

Sanchez, who signed a minor league deal with the Braves late in spring training and won a spot in their starting rotation, ended his winless drought when he pitched six innings and allowed three hits in a 4-0 win against the Cubs on a cold Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

“He pitched great,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “In and out, up-down, taking a little off a little and really changing speeds well and keeping them off balance. He was really good.”

The 34-year-old Venezuelan has a 1.27 ERA in three games (two starts) for the Braves. He held the Cubs in check with a combination of 85-89 fastballs (four-seamers and cutters), 75-79 mph curveballs, split-finger pitches, upper 60-mph change-ups and something Sanchez calls “my slow pitch.” He barely touched 90 mph.

“He had it all going today – the front-door cutters, back-door two-seamers, the eephus pitches,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “He really had them off-balance today. That’s a good lineup over there and he really shut them down.”

It was 42 degrees at the first pitch with a wind-chill or “feels like” temperature of 34, but Sanchez shrugged it off and went to work, facing only three batters in four different innings and four batters in another.

“Today was really cold for me, but when you’re on the mound it’s really different,” he said. “You’re focused on the game, trying to get this guy out. I know how good they are and I just tried to put the ball down, get my game plan down with (catcher Kurt) Suzuki and bring it to the game.”

Sanchez went 0-6 with a 7.38 ERA in his last nine starts for the Tigers in 2017 -- longest losing streak of his career -- and allowed 26 homers in just 105 1/3 innings for the season. But with the Braves he’s given up only 11 hits, two runs, one homer and six walks with 14 strikeouts in 14 innings.

“Last year and the year before that, there were too many changes for me -- separate my arm from my face, change the position on the rubber,” Sanchez said, referencing a couple of the adjustments he made in an effort to get his career back on track and reduce big home-run totals he was allowing. “Right now I feel good and I just want to continue to do that. I haven’t made any kind of change, I’m just trying to get back to what I did before.

“Even though I don’t throw as hard, the location is really good right now.”

Snitker said, “I’ve liked him for years. Just playing against him. The guy’s always known how to pitch. I think at this point in his career he understands where he’s at and that ability to pitch is even serving him better now.”

His teams had lost each of his past four starts, including three with the Tigers and his first with the Braves on Saturday at Colorado, where he pitched well – five innings, seven hits, two runs – and got no decision in a 10-inning loss.

“The opportunity I have with this team is a blessing, getting with the team late (in spring training) and they gave me the opportunity to be here,” Sanchez said. “I just want to do my best and put my effort and knowledge in those games.”