SAN DIEGO — Wilmer Flores’ flyout settled in Tommy Pham’s glove to end the top of the first, and a sprinter emerged from the Giants’ dugout.
Aaron Sanchez had waited 596 days for this start and was not going to be patient for another moment.
Every movement exuded energy. He has a confidence about him that might manifest as an extra-long stare at an umpire or maybe a glance at a hitter he just put down. The Giants brought in a competitor to be (for now) their fifth starter. They also brought in a righty who showed solid stuff.
Sanchez was electric, if not quite overpowering, in the Giants’ 3-1 loss to the Padres at Petco Park on Tuesday. His curveball was working all night, his fastball was a few ticks from his prime but still effective, his competitive fire very much not extinguished.
His family, from nearby Barstow, was in the park to see him pitch for the first time in a year and a half. This must have been an amped-up Aaron Sanchez who was running everywhere, right?
“No, that’s how I always am,” the 28-year-old said over Zoom. “I guess you could say emotional pitcher. I love to compete. That’s just who I am. And when I’m out on the field, I’m in my element.”
He was in his element through five innings and 74 pitches — 51 strikes — in an outing that included one run allowed but did not include a walk or extra-base hit. He pounded his curveball for strikes and got five whiffs on the pitch he leaned on most, throwing 22 of them.
His fastballs were not what they were a few years ago. At the height of his powers — he was a 2016 All-Star — Sanchez could reach back and consistently touch the mid-90s. He was in the upper-90s in a showcase after which the Giants signed him this offseason. His two-seamer averaged 91.5 mph Tuesday, and he says he has more building up to do.
And yet, he did not need to overpower. He allowed six hits, but three of them were of the infield variety. After a shoulder surgery that he did not know if he would see the other side of, Sanchez is a major league pitcher again.
“This was huge for me,” said Sanchez, who had flamed out with the Blue Jays through plenty of injuries and was dealt to the Astros in 2019 — just before surgery was required. “I did this whole rehab on my own, and I didn’t have a team. So being back was super special and all my family and all my close people that were right by my side through this whole last year and a half — not only was it special for me, it was special for them, too.”
He said there were at least 15 close friends and family at Petco Park, including his parents, who witnessed his sprinting around the park and his immediate faceoff with longtime AL East foe Manny Machado.
Machado is now 7-for-37 against Sanchez, the bulk of those matchups when Sanchez was with Toronto and Machado with Baltimore. They met again in the first, when Sanchez jumped ahead of him with a nice curve and a four-seamer. With the count 1-2, he snapped off his best curveball of the night, which Machado swung through. The Padres star nodded his head in Sanchez’s direction with a smile, recognizing that his old enemy was back.
Aaron Sanchez got a nod of approval from Manny Machado after this K pic.twitter.com/dG9NGbCxvA
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) April 7, 2021
Because, yes, Aaron Sanchez is back.
Gabe Kapler appreciated the ground balls he induced. His two-seamer, especially against righties, impressed the manager.
Sanchez showed the Giants this offseason that he was worth a flier. Partly because of Alex Wood’s injury, he showed them enough to start the season in the rotation. Now his goal shifts. He wants that velocity back, even if it’s not essential.
“My mindset is I’m showing people that it’s still there. Now it’s up to me to build back up, get those innings logged,” said Sanchez, who believes the more he stretches out, the more the velocity will return. “… I see that tick [in speed] coming hopefully sooner rather than later. But if I’m effective, like I was tonight, then it just shows execution over stuff any day.”