Diamondbacks, Braves want to enter break atop divisions

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves didn’t have reason to expect that much when they signed Anibal Sanchez to a minor league deal after his release by Minnesota during spring training and weren’t even sure if there would be a need for the veteran right-hander.

It turned out, though, that there was quickly an opening for another starting pitcher and Sanchez has been one of the reasons that the surprising Braves are fighting for first place in the National League East.

“He’s really saved us,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “I had no idea he was going to have this kind of impact on our club. I knew he was capable, but I hadn’t seen him in a while. He’s way surpassed anything we thought we’d get from him.”

The Braves are a rotation-best 7-3 in Sanchez’s starts and the 34-year-old takes a 4-2 record and 2.72 ERA into Friday night’s start against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the opener of a three-game series at SunTrust Park.

Zack Godley (10-6, 4.85 ERA) will start for Arizona as both the Braves (51-40) and the Diamondbacks (51-43) hope to go into the All-Star break as division leaders.

The Diamondbacks have come back to the rest of the NL West with nine losses in their past 13 games. The Braves have dropped six of their last eight games to lose their NL East edge.

The teams are meeting for the first time this year. They play four games in Arizona on Sept. 6-9.

Sanchez, who took a shutout into the seventh inning in his last start at Milwaukee, reinvented himself thanks to the ability to consistently command his cutter and has looked nothing like the pitcher who posted a 5.54 ERA for Detroit in the past three seasons.

“It’s just so much more than I was told coming in, but he is what I remember him being,” Snitker said, recalling Sanchez’s early seasons for the then-Florida Marlins and Detroit. “He’s been great.”

Sanchez made seven postseason starts for the Tigers, including one in the 2012 World Series against the San Francisco Giants.

Sanchez believes the Braves can play into October.

“I know the potential for this team to be in the playoffs is really high and really good,” he said.

Sanchez is 4-1 with a 4.47 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance against Arizona. That game out of the bullpen came last season, when he allowed three runs in an inning.

Godley will be making his first start in a week after having to pitch an inning in relief during last Sunday’s 16-inning loss to San Diego. He had started two days earlier, getting the win while allowing four hits and a run in six innings.

Godley threw 44 curveballs in his 81 pitches in the bounce-back start against the Padres after a rough outing againstSan Francisco that is the only loss in his past six decisions.

“They were aggressive to it, so I kept throwing it,” Godley said afterward. “It was kind of the way it worked. If they weren’t, I would have gone to something else. It played well for me, so I used it.”

Godley, a South Carolina native who went to the University of Tennessee, had plenty of family and friends at SunTrust Park for a start last season, but it didn’t go like he would have hoped.

The 28-year-old struck out nine in six innings, but he allowed seven runs (six earned) in the loss.

In 11 innings over two career starts against the Braves, Godley has given up four homers and 13 earned runs.