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Dominican P Christopher Sanchez Developing Into MLB Starter

 Jon Caroulis  |    May 31st, 2024 8:40pm EDT

Cristopher Sanchez of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on August 19, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

While it might appear as though pitcher Christopher Sanchez is an overnight success, it has taken him more than a decade to become a vital part of the Philadelphia Phillies starting rotation.

Adding muscle and building stamina this off-season have made him a frontline pitcher for the team leading the National League East. 

The 27-year old lefty pitched his best game of the season on May 29 as he helped defeat the San Francisco Giants, ending both the Phillies worst stretch of the season, where they suffered four losses in five games and a nine-game losing streak at Oracle Park. 

Sanchez hurled six scoreless innings in the 6-1 Phillies win, allowing only four hits while striking out seven and walking only one, lowering his ERA to 2.83. 

He’s been pitching professionally for ten years, but hit his stride in 2023 as the Phils’ No. 5 starter. Manager Rob Thomson had him slotted for the same spot at the start of spring training, but when Taijuan Walker opened the season on the injured list, Sanchez moved up to the number four spot.

He started the 2024 season pitching well, but after his first three starts, he was 0-2, and the Phils dropped all three games. In his most recent starts before the Giants victory, he pitched seven innings against the Washington Nationals on May 18, allowing only two runs while striking out 10 batters, but he left the game when it was tied. Against the Colorado Rockies on May 24, he pitched into the sixth inning and departed with a 2-1 lead. In the ninth inning, closer Jose Alvarado struck out the first two batters before surrendering a game-tying home run, and the Rockies won in extra innings. 

After 10 starts, he was the only Phillies starter with a losing record, 2-3, despite an ERA of 3.15. He had struck out 49 batters while walking 19 and has surrendered only one home run in 54.1 innings this season. Last year, he gave up 16 in 90.1 innings.

Against the Giants, he received more offensive support. The Phils were leading 4-0 when he left the game after six innings, and the Phils added two more runs in the eighth to make it 6-0. 

What’s the difference this season for more strikeouts and fewer home runs?

“I worked out with trainers in the offseason back in the Dominican Republic,” he said through translator Diego D’Aniello, adding muscle and building his stamina. It also added a few miles per hour on his fastball, touching 97.

He also worked on a slider to accompany his fastball and changeup, which is his bread and butter pitch, accounting for many of his strikeouts; players hit only .148 against it last season. After the victory over the Giants, Thomson said Sanchez had the best command of his slider all season.

A native of La Romana, Dominican Republic, Sanchez was 17 when the Tampa Bay Rays signed him in 2013. He spent six seasons in Tampa Bay’s system, the first three in the Dominican Summer League. The Phillies had several scouts look at Sanchez in the minors. A club official said the Rays system is so deep that it has too many prospects to protect in the Rule 5 draft, so they’ll trade a prospect to another club for a younger player who won’t be eligible for the draft for a year or two.

On Nov. 19, 2019, Philadelphia acquired Sanchez when they sent Curtis Mead, an Australian-born infielder, to Tampa Bay. Mead had finished the season with the Phillies’ affiliate in the Florida State League, which was then a Class-A Advanced league. He was only 19 years old when the deal was made, making him ineligible to be drafted.

“Our scouts identified this guy early last season and stayed on him and really pounded the table for us to acquire him,” then Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said at the time of the trade. “Power stuff from the left side. We’re excited about him.”

Sanchez, through the team’s interpreter, said he thought he might be traded when he was not on the Rays’ 40-man roster. The Phillies decided they didn’t want to lose him in the Rule 5 draft by placing him on their 40-man roster.

Sanchez was called up from the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, Lehigh Valley when two relievers on the Phils were diagnosed with COVID-19 in June of 2021. He made his Major League debut on June 6, 2021, against the Washington Nationals, entering the game in the eighth inning with the Phillies ahead 12-6. He threw 1.1 innings giving up no runs, one hit with two strikeouts before giving way to closer Hector Nerris.

Last season, his ground ball rate was 57 percent, fourth among all MLB pitchers with at least 90 innings.

In 2021 and 2022, Sanchez was called up from Triple-A and then sent down, alternating between long relief and spot starts. He began last year on the injured list and pitched in Triple-A for two months. The Phillies called him up on June 17, and he spent the remainder of the season in Philadelphia, making 18 starts with an ERA of 3.44. 

His control this season has improved. He went from walking nearly 10 percent of the batters he faced to just four percent, one of the best percentages in the majors. 

He was still pretty raw when the Phils acquired him. 

Thomson said, “Sanchez has grown, physically and emotionally.” The physical growth is apparent. What was it about the emotional side that matured?

Thomson said Sanchez has learned to slow the game down.

“Early on, in tight situations, young hurlers might get anxious and work too quickly. They’re unsure of how to work out of a (jam).” Sanchez, said Thomson, “has learned not to get anxious and slow the game down.”

Pitching coach Caleb Cotham said, “he’s learned to trust his stuff. Young pitchers in tight spots tend to go with one pitch, but as they get older, they learn they can (be effective) with other pitchers.”

Sanchez referred to Cotham as “a great teacher, he keeps your confidence up.”

Before the San Francisco game, Sanchez was asked if he was frustrated that despite his solid pitching, he didn’t have a winning record.

“It doesn’t matter, as long as we win,” Sanchez said through D’Aniello.

Now that he doesn’t have a losing record, how does he feel about being part of one of the better-starting rotations in the majors?

In an interview with MLB.com, Sánchez said through D’Aniello that he sees the other starters as teammates but also as resources.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “I always try to follow the other pitchers in the rotation: Ranger, Nola, Wheels, and Taijuan. They’re veterans, and I always try to watch their bullpens to see if I can pick up something.”

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Jon Caroulis