Cristopher Sanchez

‘His journey has been so remarkable': Thomson after Sanchez inks 4-year extension

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The Phillies gave up on Bailey Falter after he started the 2023 season 0-7. Connor Brogdon got a start in that spot. So did Dylan Covey. Matt Strahm started for a stretch but that was always a Band-Aid because he was on an informal pitch limit.

With nothing to lose, 26-year-old lefthander Cristopher Sanchez was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley where he had a so-so 4.35 earned run average. They didn’t know what would happen when he went to the mound in Oakland on June 17 to face the A’s.

What they never could have imagined was that, one year and five days later, Sanchez would be sitting at the dais in the basement conference room at Citizens Bank Park along with president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, to formally announce that he’d agreed to a 4-year contract extension with two club options that tie him to the organization through 2030.

That’s a giant leap of faith for a player who was still two offseasons away from being arbitration eligible and couldn’t have been a free agent until after 2028. No financial details were announced but this sort of signing is almost always a tradeoff. The player gets longterm security and, if the player performs as well as expected, the team saves a few bucks over the course of the agreement.

Then again, the Phillies believe his career has also taken a giant leap in a short period of time.

“I’d be lying if I said I (saw this coming a year ago), to tell the truth,” manager Rob Thomson said. “His journey has been so remarkable from the first time I saw him throwing 98, 99 all over the place, struggled to throw strikes. To where he is now. I wouldn’t even have been able to envision that.

“His command is outstanding. His fastball is starting to get more velocity and his secondary pitches are really, really good, especially that changeup. He’s gone from a super power guy with no command to still a power guy with command and stuff. It’s an unbelievable story, really.”

Added Dombrowski: “As much as we like Cristopher, I wouldn’t be telling you the truth if I said when he first came up, even though we liked a lot of things about him, that we’d be sitting here today. What’s he’s accomplished has been really phenomenal. He’s worked with the staff, he’s followed the leaders and to see his growth. . . Last year he accomplished a lot. And this year he’s just continued to grow.

“You don’t want to have anybody sign a long-term contract then rest on their laurels. That’s not him. He wants to just continue to get better and better.”

Sanchez is 4-3, 2.91 going into his Sunday start against the Diamondbacks.

The Phillies last three major moves have been all about securing the rotation: Retaining Aaron Nola after he filed for free agency, extending Zack Wheeler and now this.

Sanchez, who was acquired from the Rays for infielder Curtis Mead in November, 2019, had brief trials with the Phils in 2021 and 2022 and earlier in the 2023 season. Even Charles Dickens would have agreed there were no great expectations that this time around would be any different.

He had a different thought, though. “Before I would come up and go down and continue working on my craft,” he said Saturday through assistant general manager Jorge Velandia, who was acting as his interpreter. “But this time around, I felt like, ‘Okay, this is it. I’m going to look forward to staying in the big leagues.’ Everything started with the mentality and the focus on what I wanted to accomplish.”

He breezed through the first three innings, but A’s centerfielder Esteury Ruiz led off the bottom of the fourth with a shot back up the middle that struck Ruiz on his pitching hand. He not only stayed in the game but struck out the side.

“That was one test, one of the first tests,” Thomson said. “Talking about overcoming problems. That was a problem. He got hit in the hand. And he kept pitching. We got him out early, to protect him more than anything. But he kept pitching. That was probably the first time I said, ‘Hmm. Maybe we’ve got a little something different here.’”

That conviction began to grow as Sanchez made 17 starts in all, posting a 3.32 ERA, holding opponents to a .233 batting average and striking out 91 in 95 innings pitched. This year he’s 4-3, 2.91 going into his Sunday start against the Diamondbacks.

The impetus for the deal was a call from Sanchez’s agent before the Phillies left for London about the possibility of a long-term deal shortly.

“Of course, we’re always open to keeping good players in the organization,” Dombrowski said. “But philosophically, I said that as much as we’d love to have him, during the middle of the season is not something I normally I like to get into. It can be a distraction to the player.

“We were open-minded to it, but it would have to happen quickly, one way or the other.”

Asked about his rapid improvement, Sanchez credited the pitcher around him. “It’s basically follow the leader with the caballos, the horses of the team. Wheeler. Nola. Ranger (Suarez). Just follow that path,” he said, adding that Wheeler is his favorite pitcher in baseball and that it’s a thrill to share a clubhouse with him.

That quote, too, was translated by Velandia. But there was no need for help to understand Sanchez’s mood at the press conference. He chose to wear a giveaway Alec Bohm T-shirt. Printed across the front were the words: “I love this place.”

He’d better. He could be here a long time.

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