If Cristopher Sanchez was pitching to keep his slot in the rotation – which he quite possibly was – he certainly gave the Phillies reasons to continue handing him the ball every fifth day Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Facing the Atlanta Braves, possessors of baseball’s best record and most prolific offense, he struck out a career-high 10. He walked just one. He pitched deep into the game, getting one out in the eighth before manager Rob Thomson went to the bullpen.
He got a standing ovation from the crowd of 31,133 as he walked off the mound and waved his cap in acknowledgment before ducking into the dugout.
The only debit on his report card was that he also allowed four runs in the first four innings and, on this night, the Phillies weren’t able to mount one of their patented late rallies. Despite the 4-1 loss, Rob Thomson raved about the 26-year-old lefthander.
“He was fantastic. He really was,” the manager said. “I mean, that kid, I’m so proud of him. Where he’s come from. He just pitched. All his pitches were good. And going through that lineup was really good, really tough on lefthanded pitching. He just did a great job.”
Sanchez had a 5.47 earned run average in parts of two big league seasons, mostly out of the bullpen, before this season. He was called up in June when the Phillies were desperate for a fifth starter and was a godsend.
But now that last Monday’s doubleheader is in the books, the rotation will shrink from six to five and there was some question as to who the odd man out would be.
At the same time, manager Rob Thomson has dropped enough bread crumbs recently to lead inquiring minds draw a pretty clear outline of how he expects this all to play out.
Before Wednesday night’s game he said that his planned starters for this weekend’s series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium are RHP Aaron Nola (12-9, 4.64) vs. LHP Zack Thompson (5-5, 4.06) Friday night, LHP Ranger Suarez (2-6, 3.93) vs. RHP Mike Mikolas (7-11, 4.75) Saturday night and RHP Taijuan Walker (15-5, 4.30) vs. RHP Dakota Hudson (6-2, 5.10) Sunday, with RHP Zack Wheeler set to start the series opener in Atlanta on Monday.
That was no surprise. The question was what would happen with Sanchez and righthander Michael Lorenzen who, after all, pitched a no-hitter in his second Phillies start after being acquired form the Tigers.
There’s still been no announcement, but the manager tiptoed right to the edge after Wednesday night’s game. Asked specifically of he envisioned Sanchez starting next week, he hedged only slightly.
“I would think so,” he said. “If we don’t use a spot starter or an opener or whatever you want to call it. But right now he’s good on righthanders, too.”
That would mean that Lorenzen, who has spent much of his career as a reliever, could go back to the bullpen or at least piggyback on Sanchez’s starts.
Sanchez said he didn’t focus on the fact that he could be auditioning to stay in the rotation Wednesday night. “No, no, no. I don’t really think about that,” he insisted. “I’m going to give 100 percent whether it’s in the bullpen or the starting rotation. It doesn’t matter. I don’t really know what will happen, but I’ll be ready for whatever role the team needs me.”
Designated hitter Kyle Schwarber seems to expect Sanchez to remain in the rotation. “We have all the confidence in the world in him, just like we do all our starters,” he said.