LAKEWOOD, N.J. — The last warm-up pitch Sixto Sanchez threw before the first inning Wednesday night was 100 mph. That's what it said on two of the ubiquitous radar guns behind home plate at FirstEnergy Park.
Here was a slender starting pitcher, 18 years old for another two weeks, exerting minimal energy to produce triple digits. For practice.
"Have you ever seen that?" one scout turned to another.
The next 90 minutes were difficult to reconcile. It is not supposed to be this effortless and this stunning for a pitcher in his 22nd start as a professional baseball player in America. Sanchez is so far from the majors. Pitchers in the South Atlantic League do not generate the kind of reactions Sanchez did on a muggy weeknight down the shore.
He pitched six innings Wednesday for low-A Lakewood and allowed a run. The Dominican righthander struck out four and walked one. He did not surrender a hit until the fifth inning. He threw 62 pitches (45 for strikes) in those six innings, and if the Phillies did not have so much invested in Sanchez's future, they would have let him continue. He probably would have completed nine innings.
But those are numbers, and numbers do not accurately portray what Sanchez did Wednesday night. He owned the game. It moved at his pace, a breakneck pace that featured strike after strike and no time for the batter to think. He was so good that two Rome Braves batters, in the third and fourth innings when the no-hitter was still alive, attempted to bunt for hits. They did not want a part of him. Sanchez smoothly fielded one bunt and crow-hopped back toward the mound.
Scouts from seven teams watched. When Sanchez popped his fastballs, fans seated near the scouts often asked for velocity readings. They obliged. The numbers were greeted with wide eyes.
One scout wrote, "no-no," above his typical notes in the third inning — less a prediction and more a matter of fact. The stuff was that good. Sanchez hit 100 mph with at least one pitch in each of his six innings.
He threw a 101-mph fastball on the outer corner for a called strike three to end the second inning. The scouts scribbled notes. They looked across the aisle to make eye contact and confirm.
Then, the banter began.
"Jose Fernandez," one scout said.
"Pedro Martinez," a second said.
"The best arm I've seen in the minors this year," another said.
"Jesus," a fourth scout said, not as a comparison, but to express disbelief.
They saw Sanchez on a great night, and that is the kind of playful banter exchanged in the scout section on a great night. Banter, and nothing more than that. There will be other nights with other opinions.
This one was special.
Sanchez threw 39 pitches in the first four innings. He threw a curveball between 80 and 85 mph. The Phillies wanted him to work on a change-up. So Sanchez threw a few of them. They were 86 mph and sometimes 88 mph and they were almost unhittable. Rome third baseman Kurt Hoekstra lofted a change-up to center in the fifth inning that ended Sanchez's flirtation with the no-hitter.
"I think he has a major-league change-up," Lakewood manager Marty Malloy said. "Obviously, he's in triple digits with his fastball. Command of his slider, so to speak, is something he's working on. He's using it a little bit more."
So, what does all of this mean? Nothing. Sanchez could break next week. He could lose his command. He could quit baseball, find his calling somewhere else, and Sixto Lezcano would retain his status as the only Sixto in major-league history.
It is dangerous to establish expectations for a teenager who has thrown 110 1/3 innings in the United States. But, maybe, Sanchez has forced a reassessment of his place. The scouts who saw him Wednesday will file reports with some of the highest grades they'll slap on a player all season. Between innings, they texted other baseball people to tell them what they had just seen, and Sanchez's lore grew.
Sanchez, in those 110 1/3 innings, has allowed 21 runs. That's a 1.71 ERA. He has struck out 98 and walked 14. He has permitted one home run to the 411 batters he has faced.