Barry Zito

If Jonathan Sanchez implodes … then what?

Jonathan Sanchez has become impossible to defend. In the past I’ve tried. And tried again. All the way back in April, one could counter the complaints about bad body language and poor command by bringing up his batting average against (which dipped for four consecutive seasons all the way to an MLB-leading .201 in 2010) and a stretch from Aug. 30 until Oct. 10 last year where he won the NL West-clinching game against the San Diego Padres and was the best pitcher not just on the team, but in all of baseball.

The end of last season provided two glimpses into what Sanchez could become. First, there was the dominant Sanchez who gave up 6 ER and 25 hits over 51 innings. Then, in his last two postseason games, we saw the Sanchez who walks a guy per inning, gets hit with a long inning early and leaves before the 6th — the same Sanchez we’ve seen for the vast majority of this season.

To say the Giants could really use a good outing from Sanchez this evening is an understatement. They’re falling further behind the D-Backs in the standings, the bullpen’s as vulnerable as it’s been all season, and they need to wipe last night’s crushing loss out of their collective memory.

But after coming back from his fake bicep injury, Sanchez hasn’t looked any better. In fact, he’s looked worse. Instead of just walking guys, in his last two starts he’s continued to walk guys while allowing 3 homers over 9 innings. If it weren’t for the 10 guys he’s struck out since returning from the disabled list, there would be absolutely nothing positive to cling to.

If Sanchez has another 4-inning, 5 ER outing with 4+ walks, what do the Giants do? Can they continue to throw him out there every fifth day, with the D-Backs gaining steam and an offense that can’t even win consistently when Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner pitch?

The Giants can skip Sanchez’s next turn if they so choose, but after that they play nine consecutive games without a day off to end August. Barry Zito landed on the DL with a dubious recurring foot injury, but after an ankle injury in Zito’s last start with Fresno he appears to be done for the season (or the next few weeks, at least). What are the Giants’ other options? Pick up a journeyman starter off waivers, if a guy like that’s even available? Go with Sanchez and pull him at the first sign of trouble for 5-6 innings of Guillermo Mota and Dan Runzler (who just got called up as Romo hits the DL)? Call up Eric Surkamp earlier than planned to use him in a pennant race?

Plus, there’s next year to contend with, as Sanchez is arbitration-eligible for one more season before becoming a free agent. But while that may be creating pressure in Sanchez’s mind, the Giants can’t worry about that now. With time running out this season and fewer alternatives to Sanchez than existed immediately after his last fail-filled start, it would be a good time for Sanchez to recreate his last outing in Atlanta (pictured), when he struck out 11 and allowed 3 baserunners over 7 1/3 in Game 3 of the NLDS.

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