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Kansas City, Mo. — And the catcher is?

Or was, rather?

On Friday night for the Tigers, it was James McCann making just his second major-league start — and his first in the two-week playoff sprint to the wire.

McCann was manager Brad Ausmus' choice because A) Alex Avila wasn't available and because Bryan Holaday is scheduled to catch the day game Saturday that will start an hour earlier than usual (1:05 p.m., Detroit time).

A quick turnaround, in other words.

So McCann, with only five major-league at-bats to his name (and without a major-league hit), got the nod. The result? Two hits, and the Tigers beat the Royals, 10-1.

About the decision to play McCann over Holaday, who went hitless in the last two losses in Minnesota, Ausmus said "he does a very good job behind the plate. He's a good receiver with a strong arm. There's no concern about him defensively.

"I also like the way he receives the ball. He makes it look easy.

"There's a lot of effort that goes into catching the ball," Ausmus said. "When you do it 150 times a game, six days a week, it can wear on you. Some catchers fight the ball, McCann doesn't.

"Plus he's done pretty well, albeit at Triple A against left-handed pitchers — and we have a noon game coming up, so we'll have Doc (Holaday) back there tomorrow."

McCann said he found out about his starting assignment when he got to the ballpark.

"This is the kind of stuff you dream about when you're playing wiffle ball in the backyard," he said before the game. "It really means a lot to me. It's obviously a very important game, but I have to look at it as just another game."

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Scherzer's turn

Even if needed in the final game of the regular season, Saturday's starter Max Scherzer, at 16-5, doesn't have enough remaining starts to win 20 games again, but while he's won only three times in his last nine starts, he's still been pitching well.

And there are ways in which he's definitely gotten better, even over last year, as a pitcher.

"He's been one of the best pitchers in the American League," Ausmus said. "He's learned to use his breaking balls in different ways — especially his curveball."

Scherzer needs to be careful, though, because he knows the Royals can be a problem — as they were for him on June 17 when they scored 10 runs off him in four runs of an 11-4 victory in Detroit.

Sanchez update

Anibal Sanchez pitched off the mound again Thursday and "looked good," according to Ausmus.

It's not impossible he will pitch again before the end of the season, after all.

"He will throw a simulated game Sunday," Ausmus said, "and if that goes well, then we'll make a decision about when he comes back."

Sanchez has been on the disabled list with a chest muscle strain since Aug. 9. He suffered a setback midway through his recovery, but has made steady progress the last two weeks.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Tom_Gage

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