It is hard to fathom a four-start streak as effective as the one Aaron Sanchez has authored can sound this many alarms.
The former Blue Jays star has posted a 1.83 ERA through his first 19 2/3 innings with the Giants, neutralizing opponents in a way that was not exactly advertised. With Toronto, he could reach back for his mid-to-high 90s fastball that he relied upon heavily.
In a mid-February showcase in Miami, Sanchez was blazing again, up to 97-98 mph and “in midseason form,” Farhan Zaidi said at the time. The Giants signed him and he arrived in camp with diminished stuff.
“I think it’s just one of those things coming off surgery,” Sanchez, who had 2019 shoulder surgery that kept him out all of 2020, said Thursday. “The ebbs and flows of feeling good and not feeling good. There’s days I feel great, there’s day I don’t feel so great.”
He felt just fine for his start against the Marlins. It was “super cold,” another windy April night in San Francisco, which may have played a part, but his body felt right in the bullpen and then on the mound. But not one of his pitches cracked 90 mph, when his two-seamers and four-seamers had averaged 90.5 on the year entering the start.
He fought through it anyway, tossing five scoreless innings without a walk and with Miami tallying two hits. His sinker was effective, consistently landing for strikes and helping him induce ground balls; he got nine ground ball outs, versus just three from flyballs.
In his second start against the Marlins, he got far fewer chases on his curveball, but his changeup was improved. It all added up to Miami hitting the ball hard just four times against him, and it usually found gloves in a Giants defense that has played better as the season has gotten longer.
He got the job done, but it was over earlier than he would have liked.
“He’s just not at his physical best right now,” Gabe Kapler said after the 3-0 win. “I think you guys are seeing that his velocity is not where it has been in the past, and we just be want to be cognizant of making sure that he gets enough rest and recovery so he can bounce back between starts. That’s the reason why I’ve been taking him out of games a little earlier.”
The 28-year-old has not exceeded 82 pitches in an outing and has not gotten an out in a sixth inning. And yet, he also has not allowed more than two runs in a start.
“My velo’s down, but s–t, that’s been down,” Sanchez said over Zoom on Thursday. “It’s about getting outs, so I don’t really give a s–t how hard I’m throwing.”
The sentiment is understood, even if Sanchez and the Giants would both prefer his stuff to play up, which would inspire hope that the results would continue. His last pitch of the game was a two-seamer that registered 87.6 mph.
Sanchez was not sure the next step toward building his shoulder back up and impressing radar guns — “whatever it takes to get over that hump, I think we’re all onboard” — and perhaps pulling Sanchez after 67 pitches leaves him better rested for his next start. Or maybe they bump Sanchez back from his scheduled Tuesday start against the Rockies at Oracle Park and see if a fresher arm throws harder.
The Giants’ starters continue to roll, now with a 2.56 ERA that is fourth best in baseball. When healthy, there are six competitors for a five-man job, and Sanchez wants to ensure he is not the odd man out.