Sanchez sharp in Tigers' triumph over O's

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Anibal Sanchez works in the second inning Wednesday.

Sarasota, Fla. – As first tests of spring go, this one was legitimate for Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez.

Coming off an almost cursed season in terms of his health (shoulder, finger, pectoral), Sanchez threw two scoreless innings Wednesday, retiring some of the Orioles top hitters – Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Delmon Young and Manny Machado.

J.J. Hardy's single in the first was the only hitter to reach base against him as the Tigers beat the Orioles for the second straight day, 5-4, in front of the largest crowd ever to watch the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium (8,367).

"I feel good," Sanchez said, after a post-outing run. "I worked a little bit on my fastball, working on throwing pitches for strikes. The thing I've been working on in the offseason in my whole career is my location on every pitch. This felt really good for a first day."

Sanchez threw 21 pitches, 14 for strikes. He threw more curve balls than he might typically early in a game and his fastball topped out at 90. That 90-mph fastball froze Young on a 3-2 pitch in the second.

"I am happy to throw two strong innings but I have to build my arm strength all spring," he said. "I threw more fastballs because it's my first outing and I don't want to pitch around anybody. They put a good lineup against me. I know they are going to be swinging. They are working, too."

Manager Brad Ausmus said all he wanted to see from Sanchez was him walking off the mound healthy.

"Really, the bigger concern is keeping him healthy," he said. "I guess I don't have to watch his performance, necessarily, because I know he's capable of performing. But he did have an injury at the end of the season, only pitched a couple innings in the playoffs.

"He's got to be built back up."

Sanchez said injury was not on his mind.

"I am not thinking about anything past," he said. "It's gone. I don't want to put it on my mind. My focus is on preparation and getting ready for April."

The Tigers' pitching was strong through the middle innings, as well.

Right-hander Drew VerHagen, slated to start at Toledo, pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three. Left-hander Ian Krol pitched one scoreless inning, impressively retiring two right-handed batters. And righty Al Alburquerque pitched a scoreless sixth.

"I am still kind of building my arm strength for the season," said VerHagen, whose fastball hit 92. "But for a first outing, I had all my pitches working and I was throwing them for strikes."

VerHagen is developing a change-up using a split-fingered grip and he used it to strike out Jones.

"I threw a lot of change-ups," he said. "It's a new pitch, a new grip and I was getting some swing and misses from left-handed hitters."

With the split-fingered grip, VerHagen said, the pitch comes from his fastball arm slot and arm speed, but instead of fading like a circle-grip change, it drops.

"I'm still working on it," he said. "It doesn't always work as good as it did today."

The Tigers' offense was triggered by center fielder Anthony Gose, who batted leadoff and got two hits. He also stole the Tigers' first run.

He went first to third on a single by Dixon Machado. Machado got himself caught in a rundown between first and second – unintentionally according to Gose. Gose was able to score during the rundown.

Nick Castellanos gave himself a nice 23rd birthday present. Actually, Orioles left fielder and former Tiger Young gave it to him. Castellanos, who was hit in the left hand Tuesday, sent Young back to the fence in left. Young jumped, seemed to get the ball in his glove, but couldn't bring it in – two-run home run.

Castellanos has come to camp visibly bigger, both in his upper and lower body this spring, but Ausmus said the power was coming.

"Regardless of how he came to spring training, I would have told you that in the next few years you would see more power from Nick," he said. "It's just part of his maturation process."

Machado had two hits and Steven Moya had an RBI single for the Tigers.

The game did get interesting. Blaine Hardy, who along with Krol and Kyle Ryan, is fighting for the final left-hander role in the bullpen, pitched a scoreless seventh.

But he ran into some trouble in the eighth, some caused by his errant, two-base throwing error on a pickoff move. He wound up allowing three runs, but two were scored while he was in the dugout.

Nolan Reimold rapped a two-out, two-run single off righty Jose Valdez.

Valdez got two outs in the ninth before giving up a home run to Jayson Nix. After an error by Josh Wilson put the tying run on base, Ausmus brought in lefty Joe Mantiply to pitch to right-handed power hitting Steve Pearce.

Pearce hit a shot in the hole at short that Machado got to on a dive. He got up and threw a laser to first to get Pearce.