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Sanchez sharp as Tigers, Nats play to 0-0 tie

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Viero, Fla. — A scoreless tie.

Welcome to spring training baseball.

"We could have played international rules and put a runner at second base to start the inning," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus joked after the Tigers and Nationals completed a 10-inning scoreless standoff Thursday. "It would help pace of play, for sure."

There were no pace of play issues with the way Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez and the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez were throwing the ball — nine innings between them, four hits and 11 strikeouts.

Sanchez, making his fourth start of the spring, was scheduled to throw five innings and as many as 75 pitches. He could have gone seven and stayed under his limit.

"Yeah, Sanchy was good," Ausmus said. "We just didn't want him to get up and down one more time, so he finished a little short of his pitch count. He will have an extra start this spring, so he will be fine."

Masterfully mixing his wide assortment of pitches, Sanchez threw five scoreless innings.

He gave up two singles in the first inning — one of which was forced out at second on a deft bit of gamesmanship by the middle infielders. After that, nada. Sanchez retired the last 13 batters he faced. He struck out six total, the last four looking.

"It's not that they were guessing, it was more my location," Sanchez said. "When you put your fastball in real good spots, I know it's deadly. When I can throw my two-seamer on the outside corner to righties, and come back to lefties with my cutter on the outside — that kind of pitch, if I locate it good, is real hard for hitters whether they swing or not."

The four hitters who struck out looking, including Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos, were right-handed hitters.

"I threw my fastball on the outside corner then come back with a two-seamer in the same spot," Sanchez said. "That's why they freeze. They look the same."

Sanchez threw 52 pitches, no more than 11 in any inning, and 35 strikes.

Desmond and Bryce Harper singled back-to-back in the first. On Harper's single to left, second baseman Josh Wilson and shortstop Hernan Perez somehow were able to convince Desmond the ball had been caught.

"Somebody said the third base coach yelled, 'back,'" Sanchez said. "That may be why he turned back. I am glad, it made that inning easier for me."

The Tigers hitters had just as much trouble against two pitchers who are fighting to be the fifth starter in the Nationals all-world rotation. Gonzalez (four innings, two hits) and Tanner Roark (two innings, three hits) pitched six scoreless innings.

"This is a tough place to hit," Ausmus said. "The wind blows in almost every day so anything in the air generally gets knocked down, unless you hit it to right-center to the right-field foul line. But obviously it wasn't an offensive explosion. Gio was very good, though."

Right fielder J.D. Martinez and catcher James McCann each had two hits.

Tigers relievers Al Alburquerque, Buck Farmer, Blaine Hardy, Rafael Dolis and Jose Valdez all tossed a scoreless inning.

The tie snapped the Tigers six-game spring losing skid.

"Make no mistake about it, I'd rather be winning these games," Ausmus said. "But you have to look at the big picture. Spring training is to prepare for the regular season. A lot of players on the roster may or may not be on the team when we break camp. The pitchers and hitters aren't at peak performance levels.

"I'm not going to get caught up in being overly concerned about it. But I still want to win. You don't want to walk away from the park every day losing."

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky