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Strikeouts by nature require a starter to throw more pitches. The Pittsburgh Pirates Jonathan Sanchez knows this.
“This is me,” he said after his bullpen session this week. “This is the way I pitch.”
Sanchez did not change anything during his side session to avoid another outing like his most recent start, when he needed 74 pitches to finish three innings. Entering his start today against the St. Louis Cardinals, he said he wanted to pitch with more consistency.
“I’ve always been that pitcher,” he said. “I’ve always thrown a lot of pitches in games. That’s something that, it’s me. I always throw a lot of pitches. Sometimes I strike out a lot of guys. I’m just trying to be more consistent.”
Seventy-four pitches through three innings will not do regardless of the strikeout total. Manager Clint Hurdle said he removed Sanchez after three innings Sunday because he saw no sign Sanchez would turn it around, but that he will remain in the rotation.
“If he repeats his release point and locks that in, we’ll live with whatever comes out, because I believe it’s going to be good enough,” Hurdle said. “There will be strikeouts, there will be length to the game, there will be effective pitching.”
Sanchez said all of his pitches have movement on them, which causes swings and misses but also elevates pitch counts. He pointed out too many three-ball counts as an issue in Sunday’s start.
“I strike out people with any pitch,” Sanchez said. “I don’t have one pitch to strike out guys. I can strike out the same guy with three different pitches.”
Aside from forcing the bullpen to work longer, elevated pitch counts also put runners on base. Walks have plagued Sanchez for most of his career. The Pirates were fully aware of this when they signed him.
“If you’re going to take a chance on a guy that sprays a little bit, find out when they’re able to put their foot down,” Hurdle said. “Jonathan had a bad year last year, but look at the years when there was some success. There was always the ability to shut an inning down.”
Bullpen workhorse gets rest
As a byproduct of pitching so well the first month of the season, reliever Mark Melancon appeared in 13 of the first 21 games.
Neither he nor Jason Grilli were available to pitch Thursday against Philadelphia. Both pitched in the previous two games. Melancon pitched in four of the past six games, Grilli in four out of five.
“The appearances for Mark, that’s a red line for me,” Hurdle said. “Everybody else is in a place I think we’re OK with. The one that I do have my eyeball on is the appearances for Melancon right now.”
Melancon has not walked a batter in 13 innings and allowed one run on seven hits.
“You look at the big picture,” Hurdle said. “You might get one more win today and lose him for a month and a half. It’s the balance and the weight of the situation. There’ll be a time when he will be able to go three days [in a row]. He’s already done it once. We’re not out of April and I really don’t like too many three-day-in-a-row appearances per month, let alone two the first month of the season.”