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Phillies shifting Sanchez to bullpen Friday with playoffs days away

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – SEPTEMBER 24: Cristopher Sanchez #61 of the Philadelphia Phillies in action against the New York Mets during a game at Citizens Bank Park on September 24, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Cristopher Sanchez has been one of the best starting pitchers in the National League since returning from Triple A in mid-June, but it sounds like his role in the playoffs will be out of the Phillies' bullpen.

It's not a surprise as Phillies decision-makers are conscious of how many innings Sanchez has pitched this season. He's at 148, more than 50 above his previous career high.

Sanchez will pitch one or two innings in relief of starter Taijuan Walker Friday night at Citi Field in the Phillies' series opener against the Mets. Manager Rob Thomson wants him to approach it the same way he would approach a start and sees Friday as a chance to get him reacclimated to a shorter warmup period.

"It's just a matter of coming into the middle of a game as opposed to starting a game," Thomson said. "It's just getting used to that. He should be good and that's one of the reasons why we're doing it. It's not two hours of getting ready, long tossing and all that. But it will come back pretty quick."

Sanchez, because of his stamina, could be used as a multi-inning bridge reliever in October. He could be also used in a high-leverage spot that calls for a left-hander. It would give the Phillies a fourth left-handed option with Jose Alvarado, Gregory Soto and Matt Strahm.

"Even in a one-inning stint, I wouldn't be afraid to use him," Thomson said. "I'm really confident that the moment and the situation is not going to get the most of him."

Sanchez has pitched well enough over the last three months to even make this a decision. Since returning to the Phillies on June 17 with significantly improved command and a changeup that has grown into one of the majors' best, Sanchez has a 3.35 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 90 strikeouts and 14 walks in 94 innings.

Zack Wheeler will start Game 1 of the Best-of-3 wild-card series Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. Aaron Nola will start Game 2 on Wednesday. The Phillies have not named their starter for Game 3 (if necessary). It would be either Ranger Suarez or Walker. It looks like the Phillies will end up playing the Diamondbacks, who saw Suarez twice this season and didn't face Walker. That could be a factor in the decision. Walker's 6.37 ERA in the first inning could be a factor, as well.

No matter who would start a potential Game 3 in the wild-card round, it would be an all-hands-on-deck approach because there would be no tomorrow for the losing team. A starting pitcher might go through the opposing lineup once unless he's cruising.

Should the Phillies advance past the wild-card round, they would be able to start Wheeler on normal rest in Game 2 in Atlanta in the NLDS. He would also be available on normal rest in Game 5. Nola would line up for Game 3.

If the Phillies sweep the wild-card series, Suarez or Walker would start Game 1 of the NLDS. If they win the wild-card series in three games, the starter that didn't pitch the deciding game would be in line for Game 1 in Atlanta and would also be on regular rest for Game 4.

It is also possible that Sanchez could find himself back in play for a start in the NLDS if he isn't used as a reliever in the wild-card round. That's all TBD.

Wheeler made an abbreviated start for the Phillies in Thursday's meaningless 3-2 loss to the Pirates, throwing 67 pitches over four innings. He finishes the regular season 13-6 with a 3.61 ERA in 192 innings. He struck out 212 and walked 39. The Phillies are 89-70 with three games left in the regular season. Thomson's only priority is getting to the postseason healthy without players overextending themselves.

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