Lakeland, Fla. — Anibal Sanchez isn’t going down without a fight.
Trailing Matthew Boyd in the battle for the fifth spot in the Tigers rotation, Sanchez has put together two straight strong outings.
In a 5-1 Tigers win over the Mets on Monday, he pitched four scoreless innings, allowing two singles and no walks with five strikeouts. He threw 63 pitches, 44 strikes.
That’s eight straight scoreless innings for Sanchez since correcting a delivery flaw with pitching coach Rich Dubee in West Palm Beach last week.
“Feel good,” he said. “Today was another good outing but I still need to work with Dubee. But thank God everything is coming back and I’m in the right way right now.”
The two hardest hit balls off him were foul — a towering blast down the left field line by Juan Lagares and one down the right field line by Dominic Smith.
“Still working on it,” he said. “The movement of my arm is not the same that it has been for a long while. … It’s not natural for me. I feel free to throw the ball, but it’s not my natural position. I am still getting used to it — and we are at the right time to do that.”
His fastball was clocking at 89-92 mph, but his command of it was precise. He was able to spot it up, down and on both sides of the plate. Three of his strikeouts came on his fastballs that seemed to sneak up on the hitters.
“He’s always been able to do that,” manager Brad Ausmus said of Sanchez’s ability to get swings and misses on high fastballs. “His fastball has good finish at the top of the zone. He’s always gotten swings and misses on his fastball, even after his velocity came down.”
The action on his pitches, and especially the command he showed, should be taken more seriously than the results of the outing. The Mets brought mostly a minor-league team to Lakeland — with the exception of Lagares, Michael Conforto and Wilmer Flores.
Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, who didn’t get out of the first inning in his previous start, worked on the back fields Monday against minor-league hitters. He went 4.2 innings, allowed one run on seven hits with nine strikeouts.
“By all accounts, he pitched very well,” Ausmus said. “Some of the hits were weakly-hit and there was a double that should have been caught. But he looked good.”
He threw 66 pitches with 50 strikes, and got up and down four times.
“It went good,” he said. “As pumped as you can be out there (on the back fields), I guess. It was coming out real good. Threw some nice change-ups.
“It as another step in the process. I was happy I was able to get some up-and-downs.”
As for evaluating himself against minor-league hitters, he said, “The only way I can evaluate it is by the swings I got. And for the most part, I got what I was looking for.”
There were 8,757 people Monday at Publix Field, a good percentage of them showed up after they saw who the Mets brought to town — Tim Tebow.
Tebow started in left field and went 0-for-3 with a couple of misadventures in the outfield. He took a bad route and never came near a bloop double by Andrew Romine and, after a long run, he dropped a foul pop-up by Steven Moya.
“Give the guy credit, he took some good swings today,” Ausmus said. “He plays hard. You can tell by the way he goes after the ball in the outfield he’s willing to risk life and limb. I wish him luck.
“But he’s not part of the Tigers organization, so I don’t really care.”
Tigers left-hander Blaine Hardy cared a little. He had ridiculed former teammate Kyle Lobstein for being the first pitcher to give up a hit to Tebow. So, when Tebow lined one of his cutters straight into Nick Castellanos’ glove, he was relieved.
“I was thinking, ‘OK, he’s probably getting anxious for a fastball, so I will throw him something that’s got some movement on it,” Hardy said of his pitch selection. “Sure enough, he makes contact with it. Just glad Nick was there. Otherwise — I really gave Lobstein a lot of (grief) about giving up a hit to him. I’m sure I would have gotten a text message back from him.”
Hardy had a strong outing, retiring all six batters he faced.
Around the horn
The Tigers knocked Mets’ starter Matt Harvey out of the game in the fifth. James McCann hit a solo home run off him in the second, on a hanging slider. In the fifth, after Harvey had retired seven straight, the Tigers banged out three singles (Dominic Ficociello, Romine and Brendan Ryan) and two runs.
… JaCoby Jones added an RBI single in the sixth and Castellanos walloped a towering home run to left field in the seventh.
… Arcenio Leon, just added to the big-league camp as a non-roster invitee, and Alex Wilson each pitched scoreless innings.
… Jose Iglesias is quietly having a productive spring. He got two more hits, both off Harvey, and is hitting .364.
… Center fielder Tyler Collins (lat strain) was throwing long toss before the game, but he is still being held out of the lineup. The team is off tomorrow and he is not scheduled to make the trip Wednesday to Dunedin.
… Omar Infante was scratched from the lineup Monday after his back stiffened after he took batting practice.
... Miguel Cabrera was back at TigerTown on Monday, back from the WBC. He took treatment on his back, which stiffened on him during the tournament. He will not travel with the team Wednesday to Dunedin, and Ausmus said the team would re-evaluate him Thursday.