Healthy Sanchez would be 'enormous plus' for Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Anibal Sanchez fires against the Phillies on Sunday.

Clearwater, Fla. – He is a No. 3 starter with ace stuff. He's thrown a no-hitter. He led the American League with a 2.57 ERA in 2013. Yet, because injuries limited him to 21 starts last season, Anibal Sanchez is at times a forgotten piece of the Tigers' puzzle.

Not, however, to manager Brad Ausmus.

"If we get 200 innings out of Sanchy I would be extremely happy," Ausmus said before the Tigers and Phillies played to a nine-inning, 4-4 tie Sunday. "We'd be in a very good spot. We talk about losing Max Scherzer, having David Price, hoping Justin Verlander bounces back – but if we could have Sanchy healthy it would be an enormous plus for us."

Sanchez gave up three home runs Sunday, two on hanging curveballs to Chase Utley and another on a slider to Russ Canzler. Other than that, he was in command. He stuck out 10 in seven innings. Singles by Ben Revere and Jeff Francoeur were the only other hits Sanchez allowed.

"I feel really good," said Sanchez, who threw 84 pitches (61 strikes) in 6.1 innings. "Especially with my fastball command."

Yoenis Cespedes returns to the dugout after his homer in the fourth inning Sunday.

His fastball got to 94 mph, but he was mixing cutters and sinkers at 91-92 mph and freezing hitters. Five of his 10 strikeouts were called third strikes, three of them on well-placed fastballs.

"Usually I get guys chasing my change-up but today I was using my fastball for finishing," Sanchez said. "I was putting the cutter and sinker in both corners and that helped me; the hitters just look at that pitch."

In 24.2 innings this spring, Sanchez has struck out 26.

He's also given up six home runs – which Sanchez said is not a concern.

"I always say, you don't have any kind of game plan (in the spring)," he said. "You don't know who you are going to face. You are just working on your pitches."

Case in point – the two Utley home runs. The first one came on a 1-2 curveball – which Sanchez said he wouldn't normally throw, at least not in the strike zone, in that count. The second homer was a first-pitch curve ball.

"I figured after I threw that first home run for him he wouldn't be looking (for another curve)," Sanchez said. "I think he was looking for the curveball."

There is only one statistic Sanchez pays close attention to.

"The only worry in spring training is walks," he said. "The rest doesn't matter."

Sanchez walked one Sunday and has six walks in 24.2 innings this spring.

As for being overshadowed by Price and Verlander, Sanchez said he's just fine with that.

"Yeah, that's good," he said with a smile. "The less they say about me, perfect. Other teams don't worry about me, they say they don't want to face Price or Verlander. I am good with that; never been concerned with that."

The Tigers' got home runs from Tyler Collins (second of the spring) and Yoenis Cespedes (fourth). Third baseman Jefry Marte singled in the fourth run, a scoring chance set up by an error and a bunt single by catcher James McCann.

Miguel Cabrera, who played six innings at first base, had a single in four at-bats.

And, to complete his day, Sanchez got three at-bats and, because he is scheduled to make his second start of the season in Pittsburgh, he bunted all three times to prepare.

"They don't let me swing, just bunt," Sanchez said, feigning disappointment. "They don't want to show my power."