Jones: Sanchez's problem is mechanical, not pitch sequencing
Detroit – Understandably, Anibal Sanchez's head was spinning. Less than an hour after the worst start of his career he was asked to explain what went wrong.
"I'll come tomorrow and figure out what's going on, figure out what happened, figure out if I was having trouble with my sequence, trouble with my mechanics, trouble with my location," he said. "Something happened and for sure I want to work on that."
Sanchez, catcher James McCann and pitching coach Jeff Jones have gone over the nine-run, nine-hit drubbing against the White Sox Saturday. Of all the possible concerns Sanchez talked about post-game, the pitch sequencing seems to be last on the priority list.
"I don't think it was sequencing," Jones said.
At the top of the list, at least as Jones sees it, is a mechanical flaw.
"We are working on some things mechanically," he said. "It was kind of in and out. We are trying to get him to use his legs a little more. He was a little bit upright on some pitches, then he'd start to use his legs a little bit better and then he'd go back to being upright."
Without a proper posture and leg drive, Sanchez can lose velocity on his fastball, bite on his breaking balls and the ability to locate pitches. Jones said they had been working on the issue prior to the start Saturday.
The slider he hung to Jose Abreu, which was tagged for a grand slam, was the best example of throwing with an overly upright delivery. The pitch just spun over the heart of the plate.
"He threw a great bullpen the other day," Jones said. "But when he got into the game he kind of got away from it."
The pitch sequencing, though, at least deserved some review. Sanchez felt like it got repetitive on certain hitters. McCann, who called every pitch, said there were some both he and Sanchez would like do-overs on, but that happens in every game.
"It's like when a hitter starts 0-for-20; he's going to start thinking, 'What am I doing differently, what's going wrong?'" McCann said. "But a guy like Anibal, with a proven track record, he's just searching for answers.
"Yeah, maybe the pitch here or the pitch there, we change it and it's a different ballgame. At the same time, he made some good pitches that they just hit."
Case in point, two balls that Melky Cabrera golfed into right field for singles were ball that were going to hit the dirt if he didn't hit them.
"There is some truth to it (repetitive pitch sequencing), in a sense, but hindsight is 20-20," McCann said. "Every home run pitch, if you make a different call or different location, yeah, it's going to be a different outcome."
Both Alex Avila and McCann, along with Jones and the pitchers, meet before every game to devise a game plan against each hitter. McCann may be a rookie, but he takes that part of his job seriously.
"He takes extreme pride in calling games," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He prepares extremely diligently, going over all the information we have and everything Jonesy prepares. I have never made a (pitch) call from the dugout."
Jones agrees, but there is no substitute for experience and McCann is still in his formative years.
"He's going to be fine," Jones said. "It takes time for a young catcher. Fortunately for us he was in spring training and he's talked to a lot of pitchers about what they like to do in certain situations.
"It's always going to be a learning process, for a while. I think he handles it well and will continue to handle it well."
The tricky part, especially for a younger catcher, Jones said, is making adjustments throughout the game.
"You have to go in with a plan and sometimes, depending on what's working, you have to abandon that plan," Jones said. "The big thing for a catcher is figuring out from the pitcher what's working. Sanchy throws four or five different pitches. If a couple aren't working, you can't keep pounding on them and expecting them to work. Sometimes you have to get away from it and then come back to it later."
But Jones reiterated, he thinks Sanchez's issue the last two outings – where he's given up 14 runs, 14 hits and five home runs – is his delivery, not pitch selection.