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Marlins manager calls Sixto Sánchez’s first-inning struggles ‘unacceptable’: ‘He’s going to have to be better’

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Sunday afternoon, the New York Mets recovered from Saturday’s crushing loss with a 7-3 win over the Miami Marlins (box score). They hammered Sixto Sánchez for four runs in the first inning, added insurance runs against the bullpen late, and avoided any ninth-inning adventures. The Mets still have to figure things out with Edwin Díaz, though at least they got back in the win column.

The Marlins, meanwhile, dropped to 15-33 on the season, and their minus-82 run differential is the worst in the National League. Sánchez allowed those four runs in the first inning Sunday, then settled down and kept the Mets off the board the next three innings. That continues a pattern for Sánchez, who has allowed 11 runs in the first inning in his five starts (19.80 ERA), and six runs (three earned) in 14 1/3 innings otherwise (1.88 ERA).

Following Sunday’s game, Marlins manager Skip Schumaker did not mince words, saying Sánchez must figure out the first inning to remain a starter at the big-league level. Schumaker went as far as to call the first inning struggles “unacceptable.” From MLB.com:

“I don’t know [the root of the issue], but that’s unacceptable in the first inning, so if he wants to start at this level, he’s going to have to be better in the first inning. It’s just what it is,” Schumaker said. “We had a heart-to-heart underneath, and so did [pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.].”

“I’ve said this before: The changes that we’re trying to do are not working, so we have to keep trying to find something,” Schumaker said. “I’m not going to give up on him. We’re not going to give up on him, but he’s not a top prospect anymore. Like it’s time to go. If he wants to start, he’s got to figure this part out if he wants to be a starter. We think he’s a starter that shows you what he can do second through fifth innings.”

I would file that under “tough love,” not “throwing him under the bus.” Schumaker indicated they’re trying to help Sánchez make adjustments that will allow him to overcome his first-inning issues, but they’re not working. At some point the blame shifts from the organization to the player. We don’t know if the Marlins are at that point with Sánchez yet, but that point does exist.

Sánchez, who is still only 25, returned from a series of major arm injuries this season. He did not pitch at all in 2021 or 2022, and he threw only one minor-league inning in 2023. Sánchez is out of minor-league options, meaning the Marlins can not send him to Triple-A without exposing him to waivers, and they don’t want to do that. They’re forced to figure this out in the big leagues.

It might be worth pairing Sánchez with an opener and seeing whether that helps him get over the first-inning woes. Historically, the first inning is the highest scoring inning because it’s the only inning in which each team’s best hitters are guaranteed to hit. Miami can give Sánchez an opener and let him avoid the top of the order, and see whether that gets him moving in the right direction.

Miami had Sánchez begin 2024 in the bullpen and he didn’t pitch especially well in that role, allowing seven runs (five earned) in 7 1/3 innings. Opponents hit .267/.353/.400 against him as a reliever. The Marlins moved Sánchez into the rotation out of necessity because they’ve been hit so hard by injuries this year. It’s not like he pitched well as a reliever and earned the rotation opportunity.

After all the arm trouble and multiple surgeries, it is no surprise Sánchez’s velocity is down significantly from his 2020 rookie season. His four-seamer averaged 98.8 mph and his cutter averaged 89.1 mph in 2020. This year those numbers are 94.4 mph and 83.9 mph this year, respectively. Sánchez has only 15 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings, and has among the lowest whiff rates in MLB.

Acquired from the NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies in the J.T. Realmuto trade, Sánchez threw 39 innings with a 3.46 ERA as a rookie during the shortened pandemic season in 2020. That earned him some Rookie of the Year votes. Injuries then set in and sidelined him for what amounts to the entirety of the 2021-23 seasons.

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