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Sánchez starts for Nats in World Series after 13 days’ rest

By Howard Fendrich

AP sports writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Aníbal Sánchez is not as highly touted, or as highly paid, as the three members of the Washington Nationals’ starting staff who already have pitched in this World Series.

All he’s done so far this postseason, though, is go 1-0 with a 0.71 ERA in two starts, taking a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of his previous appearance.

The 35-year-old right-hander will start Game 3 on Friday night for Washington against Houston’s Zack Greinke as the Nationals try to grab a 3-0 series lead, a margin that’s never been overcome in the Fall Classic.

“Everybody talks about our Big Three” of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Game 4 starter Patrick Corbin, manager Dave Martinez said Thursday, “but Aníbal has pitched unbelievable. … He gives us a chance to win ballgames every outing.”

Greinke, who turned 36 on Monday, has struggled this postseason, going 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA in three appearances. For his career, he’s 3-6 with a 4.44 ERA in 14 games, never before pitching in the World Series.

The last time Sánchez pitched, he was about as good as can be, allowing one hit — to the 27th, and last, batter he faced — and one walk while helping Washington beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series.

That was all the way back on Oct. 11, meaning Sánchez will have had 13 days of “rest” between starts, much more than the four or five days he is generally used to.

“I’ve been throwing a baseball since February. Probably January. So right now, it’s not something that’s going to affect you,” said Sanchez, who went 10 days between his final regular-season appearance and his outing in Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. “So for me, I’m fine with the rest.”

Indeed, that sort of extended break doesn’t seem to have been a problem for Sánchez.

Over his career, Sánchez is 19-9 with a 3.37 ERA, 8.2 strikeouts every nine innings and a .237 opponent batting average in the 54 starts when he’s had six or more days off. All of those numbers are better than what he’s produced after four or five days of rest.

In 2019, that pattern continued, including a .186 opponent average in the five starts when he had six or more days between starts, compared with .214 after five days, and .278 after four.

His matchup against Greinke, who was 8-1 in 10 regular-season starts for Houston after arriving from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a trade on July 31, comes after the Nationals got the better of the higher-profile starter showdowns in this World Series. Scherzer won Game 1 against Gerrit Cole — when Corbin, usually a starter, reprised his relief role for Washington — and Strasburg won Game 2 against Justin Verlander.

Now it’s Sánchez’s turn. He doesn’t get the accolades or notice that his staff-mates do. Doesn’t make nearly as much, either: Scherzer signed a $210 million, seven-year deal; Strasburg has a $175 million, seven-year extension he can opt out of this offseason; Corbin joined Washington last offseason for $140 million over six years; Sánchez’s got $19 million for two years as a free agent in January.

Sánchez followed the same pattern that the Nationals did as a whole this year.

Just as they went from 19-31 in May to unbeatable lately — they’ve tied a record by winning eight straight postseason games in a single year — he delivered quite a turnaround, too.

After starting his Washington tenure with an 0-6 record, he won eight decisions in a row and ended up 11-8 with a 3.85 ERA. The first win in that streak? It came on May 29, when Sánchez threw six shutout innings, allowing just one hit, in a 14-4 victory at Atlanta.

Worth noting: That followed quick trip to the injured list for a strained hamstring, which meant it came after 12 days’ rest.

“Right now, I’m anxious to get on the field. But at the moment the game starts, it’s another thing,” Sánchez said Thursday, when a handful of his teammates participated in an informal workout at Nationals Park. “You focus on what you have to do, what pitch you have to execute, what hitter you’re going to face.”

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