HOUSTON — The Miami Marlins trusted Sixto Sanchez last week in a win and advance in the playoffs start.
They’re confident Sanchez will come through in a win-or-go-home scenario, as well.
Sanchez, the Marlins’ 22-year-old Dominican power right-hander, will try to help the Marlins stave off elimination when he faces the Braves for the third time this season.
“I’m confident with Sixto every time he goes out there,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss that put Miami behind 2-0 in the best-of-5 series.
Sanchez hurled five shutout innings, striking out six and giving up four hits and two walks this past Thursday in a 2-0 Marlins win against the Chicago Cubs that advanced them to the National League Division Series.
The Marlins’ top prospect burst onto the scene this season posting a 1.69 ERA through his first five starts. That included a quality outing the first time he faced the Braves on Sept. 8 when he tossed six shutout innings while allowing three hits and a walk and striking out six.
But Atlanta made Sanchez look like a rookie 15 days later when they met again.
Sanchez gave up four runs on four hits and four walks with only two strikeouts and lasted only three innings.
The Braves did most of their damage in that second start for Sanchez in a three-run, three-hit first inning.
“I’ve been working really hard to fix those little things I needed to after that start in my recent bullpens,” Sanchez said. “I’ve been working hard every day keeping my head high, and I just want to go out there and do a good job for my team.”
Sanchez’s control on the mound is what made him one of baseball’s top prospects and led to his success in his first season in the majors.
His command of an upper-90s fastball that can often touch 100 mph overpowered Cubs hitters last week. But against a Braves team that handles velocity well, Sanchez needs to maintain command of all four of his pitches.
“He’s a guy you look at as a pitcher on the rise because he throws everything for strikes,” Mattingly said. “He can throw the fastball for strikes and can locate it. He can do that with his changeup, his slider, his curveball and work both sides of the plate. That’s a lot for a young guy to do.”
Freddie Freeman has had the most success against Sanchez with hits in each of his two starts against the Braves, including the lone extra-base hit Atlanta has mustered so far against him. Ronald Acuna Jr., who struck out four times in Game 2, has gone 0 for 5 against Sanchez, reaching base only once on a walk.
The Marlins, of course, are no strangers to having their backs against the wall this year and playing with external pressure. They have rallied through 174 roster moves, 18 MLB debuts and a shuffled schedule due to the COVID-19 outbreak at the start of the 60-game season to make it to the playoffs. They came from behind with seventh-inning offensive pushes to sweep the Cubs in the wild-card round.
So the players in the Marlins’ clubhouse aren’t hanging their heads just yet.
“We don’t need to win three (on Thursday). We have to win one,” Mattingly said, “and then the momentum turns and puts a little more pressure on them.”
Added utility player Jon Berti: “We’ve been through so much this year. We’re up for every challenge.”
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