Efficiency was the name of the game for Sixto Sanchez on Sunday.
Philadelphia's top prospect tossed a seven-inning two-hitter for his second career shutout as Class A Advanced Clearwater beat Florida, 6-0, in their doubleheader opener. He fanned five, walked two and threw 56 of 72 pitches for strikes.
Gameday box score
Sanchez retired the first four batters he faced before Garrison Schwartz singled to right field with one out in the second. The 19-year-old set down the next eight Fire Frogs, mostly pitching to contact. A reliance on his slider, according to Threshers pitching coach Aaron Fultz, kept hitters off balance all game.
"He'd been working on it," Fultz said. "The slider's been really sharp. He's pitching basically backwards. The hitters get geared up for the 98-mph fastball and then they can't touch the offspeed when it comes in. He's just mixing it up."
Sanchez (4-3) worked around leadoff baserunners in each of his final three innings. Schwartz drew a leadoff walk in the fifth, but the right-hander struck out Braxton Davidson, got Ray-Patrick Didder looking at strike three and retired Marcus Mooney on a grounder to third.
The development of his offspeed repertoire was evident throughout the outing, Fultz said.
"He's got other options," the pitching coach said. "He could always throw strikes with them. Now they're better pitches. He's going to get more defensive swings."
In the sixth, Sanchez allowed a leadoff single to Raysheandall Michel in the sixth, but quickly coaxed a double-play grounder from Braves No. 9 prospect Cristian Pache. Brett Cumberland led off the seventh with a walk before Jared James fouled out to left field. Schwartz, who had already reached twice, grounded into a game-ending double play.
"I think it's a product of them not being able to sit on one pitch," Fulz said. "They're not able to sit on the fastball like they were in the past. Now they react instead."
The native of the Dominican Republic kept his infield busy, recording 10 outs on ground balls. It wasn't quite the strikeout performance he had during his most previous start against Palm Beach, when he punched out 10, because the slider's sharpness decreased as his start went on.
"He tried to make it too big," Fultz said. "It was still effective. But it wasn't the strikeout pitch."
The coach noted that with an increased confidence in his slider, Sanchez has been staying on top of the ball during his release instead getting around the side of it.
Sanchez had finished seven innings just once as a professional -- on April 28 against Dunedin. Since his ERA climbed to 4.71 on May 5, he's given up two earned runs over 25 2/3 innings in his last four starts to get that number down to 2.51, which ranks second in the Florida State League. It marked his second scoreless start of the year after blanking Daytona for 6 2/3 innings on May 11.
"The only bad thing is that it means I may lose him soon," Fultz said. "I don't know if we have plans to move him anytime. If he throws like he does in the last couple, he's going to need a new challenge."
Until the recent stretch of success, Sanchez's slider had been inconsistent. Fultz originally introduced the pitch to his student during instructional league play.
"I want to see him repeat exactly what he's done," Fultz said. "The last two starts have been special."
Phillies No. 4 prospect Mickey Moniak clubbed a three-run shot, his first homer of the season. He also delivered an RBI single as the Threshers rallied to a 7-6 win in the nightcap to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games.
"Obviously, I'm not looking to hit a home run every at-bat," Moniak said after the game. "But when you run into one, it's nice."