The Braves entered the day with the majors' best record, but the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez cut them down to size Friday night. Staked to a 4-0 lead through three innings and 10-0 through four, the 29-year-old righty dominated the Braves, striking out 17 hitters — the most by any pitcher thus far this season — in eight scoreless innings while allowing just five hits and one walk.
The 17-strikeout performance topped Yu Darvish's 14 strikeouts against the Astros on April 2. It set a career high for Sanchez, whose previous high was 14 against the Diamondbacks last April 28, when he was pitching for the Marlins. It also set a franchise record for the Tigers, breaking a Mickey Lolich mark that stood since 1969.
The last Major Leaguer to reach 17 Ks in a single game was the Blue Jays' Brandon Morrow, who did so in a one-hit shutout of the Rays on August 8, 2010. Only one other player has whiffed at least 17 in a game since 2004: Johan Santana for the Twins in eight innings against the Rangers on August 19, 2007. The single-game high for strikeouts in a nine-inning game is 20, a feat accomplished by Roger Clemens in 1986 and 1996, Kerry Wood in 1998 and Randy Johnson in 2001.
Sanchez needed only 121 pitches to accomplish the feat. According to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index, of the 16 previous times a pitcher has notched at least 17 strikeouts since the 1993 expansion, only four did so with fewer pitches, with Santana's 112-pitch outing the lowest. Note Hideo Nomo's 1996 performance against the Marlins does not have an official pitch count recorded in the Retrosheet annals.
According to the PITCHf/x breakdown at BrooksBaseball.net, Sanchez threw more than 17 pitches in just one inning, the second. In that frame, he allowed a one-out double to Chris Johnson and a two-out walk to B.J. Upton, but scattered three strikeouts around those two baserunners. The second and eighth innings were the only ones in which he recorded all three outs via strikeouts. He did not have a 1-2-3 inning with all Ks.
Sanchez used six different pitches according to PITCHf/x, and got a whopping 27 swings and misses:
• 44 four-seam fastballs, with an average speed of 93.6 MPH — 1.2 MPH above last season's average — and a max of 95.5 MPH. He got 13 called strikes, 13 foul balls, and four swings and misses on those pitches, with just three put into play, with Evan Gattis' double the only hit.
• 34 sliders, eight of which produced swings and misses. That 23.5 percent whiff rate is well above his 14.2 percent average on the pitch last year. Three sliders were put into play, two of which resulted in hits, a Chris Johnson double and an Andrelton Simmons single.
• 27 changeups, 10 of which produced swings and misses. Again, his 37.0 percent whiff rate on that pitch was well above last year's already-high 22.0 percent rate. Seven of the changeups went for balls, four were put in play, with one resulting in a double by Simmons.
• 7 cutters, including two swings and misses
• 6 sinkers, including two swings and misses
• 4 curves, including one swing and miss and one ball in play, a Johnson single.
Even before his big night — which can stand next to his September 6, 2006 no-hitter among his memorable performances — Sanchez had been pitching well. In his four previous starts, he had delivered three quality starts and a scoreless five-inning performance. His ERA now stands at 1.34, and he has 41 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings, an average of 11.0 per nine. Meanwhile, he's walked just 2.4 per nine and has yet to allow a homer. For all of their success thus far in this young season, the Braves may have been predisposed to such a performance. They came into Friday in a virtual tie for the league lead with a 23.1 percent strikeout rate. Every Braves starter whiffed at least once, with Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman earning golden sombreros by striking out four times apiece, and Juan Francisco a silver sombrero with three strikeouts. Uggla (31.2 percent), B.J. Upton (30.3 percent) and Justin Upton (25.0 percent) all came in ranked among the top 21 in strikeout rate among NL hitters.