Perhaps the biggest complaint against Royals left-hander Jonathan Sanchez isn’t his cover-your-eyes pitching stats.
Yes, those numbers are indeed hideous: A 1-3 record, a 6.21 ERA, 34 walks and 42 hits in just 42 innings.
But even more appalling to fans and other observers is that, on the mound, his body language seems to suggest indifference.
Not the case, says Sanchez.
“Sure, I care,” he told FOXSportsKansasCity.com. “We’re human beings. Sure it’s frustrating. Sure it hurts. No one wants to go through this. Every single player goes through this at some time.
“We all want to win. People that don’t think we care don’t know baseball. They don’t know how much work we go through. We work all year and get maybe two weeks off. The rest of the time you work on getting better. We spend all winter, training to get better.
“So yes, we care and want to win. But we’re humans. We’re not robots. You can’t just throw it the same way every pitch. No one can.”
Sanchez’s biggest issue on the mound in 2012 has been a familiar one during his career: Lack of command.
Sanchez, acquired in the off-season from San Francisco for Melky Cabrera, simply cannot throw strikes consistently. During one three-game stretch this season, he threw a total of 270 pitches, but only 134 were strikes – not even 50 percent.
“It’s not like I’m trying to throw (balls),” he said. “Sometimes it’s there and it’s not called. Sometimes it’s there and it gets hit.
“But you can’t just throw it down the middle. This is the big leagues. They’ll hit it. You have to work the corners.”
Sanchez, though, has rarely found the corners, which he attributes to simply being in a slump.
“It’s just not working for me right now,” he said. “It’s a slump. That’s what it is. A slump. Everyone goes through it.
“I’m pitching the same. It’s just not working.”
One theory is that Sanchez, who has been hampered by biceps tendinitis, has lost too much velocity to be as “effectively wild” as he once was. His fastball, once in the 92-94 mph range with the Giants, has dipped to 88 mph. Hitters, therefore, don’t feel the need to chase pitches out of the zone and instead wait for room-service fastballs over the plate.
“I don’t look at the speed,” Sanchez said, shaking his head. “Speed doesn’t get guys out.
“It’s about luck. There’s been some bad luck. I don’t think speed is the problem right now.”
The problem could be with his mechanics, but Sanchez, 29, said he’s not going to change his approach.
“I don’t want to change anything,” he said. “If I try to change things, I’ll end up a real mess. I just have to trust that it will work out.”
Yet there may come a point when the Royals simply can’t wait on Sanchez anymore and must remove him from the rotation, or worse.
“I never think about that,” he said. “Going to the pen, sometimes it helps guys, but I don’t think so much for me. I’ve been a starter all my life. It’s who I am. I have had bad slumps before and I got out of them. Right now it’s not working but I got to believe it will come back.”
Sanchez said he was in a similar bad spot back in 2009.
“I started out struggling and then they sent me to the bullpen,” he said. “But they still believed in me. When Randy Johnson got hurt, they gave me a chance and that’s when I threw the no-hitter. Then I was fine the rest of that year and in 2010.
“Then I got hurt and didn’t pitch much last year. I’ve just got to work through this.”
Slumps, Sanchez said, are a part of baseball for pitchers and hitters. Eric Hosmer is an example.
“You don’t give up on a guy like him,” Sanchez said. “He’s going to be a great hitter. He’s been in a slump but he’s a great hitter. He belongs here. It’s no fun at times for him or for anyone who goes through that. But slumps happen and you have to fight your way through them.”
For now, the Royals aren’t going to give up on Sanchez, mainly because they have few, if any, options for a rotation already patched together.
“We will continue to use him every fifth day and hopefully the results will get better,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “He’s actually had moments where he has pitched well lately.”