Six days ago, after nearly two weeks away from game action, Sixto Sanchez had his spottiest command of the season and still didn't allow a run. On Sunday, his command was back and brought more zeros with it.
The Phillies' second-ranked prospect allowed two hits and struck out five without issuing a walk over six scoreless innings before Class A Lakewood dropped a 4-3 decision to Hickory at FirstEnergy Park.
"He's been pretty consistent all year," Lakewood pitching coach Brian Sweeney said. "The key for Sixto is his delivery. He's got a pretty clean delivery where he uses his legs efficiently and he's able to fill up the zone very consistently with three pitches. When you can do that in the South Atlantic League, you're going to have good success."
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Sanchez's start was his eighth straight allowing three earned runs or fewer and sixth in 13 this year without any walks. It came on the heels of a three-walk outing in his last start, a rain-shortened five-inning victory over Charleston that marked the first time all year the righty issued more than one free pass. The BlueClaws skipped Sanchez's turn in the rotation as part of the plan to limit the 19-year-old's workload resulting in a layoff from July 12-24. Back in his regular groove, he looked like his dominant self.
"I think that was just a blip in the radar for him because he really does fill up the zone so well," Sweeney said. "In those days off, he may have gotten just a little rusty. He hadn't been on the bump in a game in a while and now, in regular rotation, everything fell into place for him."
Sanchez dealt with traffic on the bases Sunday while running his scoreless streak to 11 innings. MLB.com's No. 52 overall prospect hit Charles LeBlanc with a two-out pitch in the second, allowed a leadoff single to right field by Yohel Pozo in the third and threw a wild third strike to Alex Kowalczyk with two outs in the fourth. None of the runners got past first base.
In his final inning, Sanchez faced his only jam. Blaine Prescott reached on an infield single with one out, stole second and continued to third on a throwing error by catcher Gregori Rivero. Facing a runner in scoring position for the first time, the native of the Dominican Republic worked out of the jam by fanning top Rangers prospect Leody Taveras and getting Andretty Cordero to pop out.
"I thought it was great because he had some adversity," Sweeney said. "He had to pitch around an error, and with a guy on third base and less than two outs and a pretty decent hitter at the plate in Taveras, he dropped in probably his best changeup of the day to punch him out. That was real exciting to see because he trusted it, he threw it, he stayed within his delivery and he got the strikeout and the eventual popout after that. It was great for him and his development."
Sanchez threw 54 of 73 pitches for strikes and lowered his ERA to 2.41.
"It almost gets to a point where he almost gets, I don't want to say bored, but he's competed so well that he's able to work on different things, which is important for him, like his slider and his changeup," Sweeney said. "When you're coming with a 100 mph fastball, it's pretty easy to just use that, but now as he's settling in, he's using all of his pitches and learning how to build outs."
Nearing the final month of his first full pro season, Sanchez already has thrown more innings (67 1/3) than in either of his first two campaigns.
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"For him, toeing the rubber for us every sixth day with a six-man rotation, getting out there and finishing a full season strong [is big]," he said. "With us being the northernmost team in the South Atlantic League, there's a lot of things that you have to embrace as a player in this league with the bus rides, the food, 140-something games. He has to adjust to all that, the language barrier, where to eat, how to eat, all different types of things. We have a great staff here that's really helping him embrace all facets of his professional career."
Opposite Sanchez, Rangers No. 17 prospect Kyle Cody recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings. He gave up two runs on five hits and two walks.