Despite rough 1st, Tigers' Sanchez makes big strides

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla.— This is why manager Brad Ausmus doesn't put much stock in spring training game results.

Anibal Sanchez, making his third start, gave up four runs, three in the first inning — which looks a little sketchy in a box score. But in terms of progressing toward the regular season, Saturday's performance was a big step forward.

"Sanchez was good today," Ausmus said after the Tigers 5-4 split-squad loss to the Phillies. "His stuff was good, his action was good…I liked what I saw."

Again the box score shows he gave up a walk, single and home run to Brian Bogusevic in the first inning, and another home run to Bogusevic in the third. What it doesn't show is how Sanchez worked through some early mechanic issues in his delivery to find his arm slot and feel on his wide array of breaking balls.

"Today, I was working on my mechanics and my body for my pitches," Sanchez said. "I worked on my command and control with my mechanics. My last outing I felt I got my arm too short and I wasn't getting enough extension on my pitches.

"Today, I use it and work on that."

He followed up the 33-pitch first inning with an eight-pitch second. Other than Bogusevic's second home run in the third — which was a laser shot to right field — Sanchez retired 12 straight batters.

He wound up throwing 63 pitches, 44 strikes.

"My limit was 65 pitches today and didn't think I was going to make it," he said, jokingly. "I thought I threw in the first inning probably 50."

He is still building arm strength so his fastball topped out at 92, two to three mph slower than he typically throws his four-seamer.

"Spring training is for building the arm," he said. "We don't have a game plan. We don't know the hitters or the lineup at all. But my preparation today was really good. I learned a lot today for my next outing and for the season."

His body, he said, feels healthy and strong, and once he got the proper extension on his delivery, he said he felt like he was throwing the ball "like I used to in 2013, with a good delivery and the ball moving more."

The Tigers also got scoreless outings from three key members of the bullpen — Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria and Tom Gorzelanny.

Nathan, featuring a change-up that he's trying to add to his repertoire, faced three batters.

He walked Cord Phelps but catcher James McCann threw him out at second trying to steal. He struck out Grady Sizemore on a high fastball.

Soria has now pitched three scoreless innings this spring.

"He had his cutting motion on his fastball, which is something we didn't see consistently last year," Ausmus said. "His fastball has a natural cut to it and I think when he came over to us (last August) we didn't see it as frequently. And sometimes it disappeared. My guess is that it was injury-related.

"But I talked to McCann and he said all but one fastball cut today. That's the Soria that's been successful in the past."

Gorzelanny, expected to be the Tigers late-inning lefty, allowed one hit in his second straight scoreless outing.

The Phillies scored the winning run off Alex Wilson in the ninth.

Offensively, Hernan Perez raised his spring average to .346 with two singles and a double in three at-bats. And third baseman Jefry Marte hit a home run to left.

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky