Houston bats too big for erratic Anibal Sanchez

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — This one bothered manager Brad Ausmus. He admitted as much after the game.

"I thought we were a little sloppy," he said, after the Astros beat the Tigers 10-8 to earn a split of the four-game series. "As the manager I am partly to blame for that. It disturbs me when we score eight runs and lose. We shouldn't be losing with eight runs scored. It's as simple as that.

"So in that sense, it bothers me a little bit more."

If sloppy play was bothersome, then the wildly erratic pitching by starter Anibal Sanchez has to be bewildering. The Astros scored the winning runs off the Tigers bullpen in the seventh and eighth innings, but it was Sanchez who first put the team behind 3-0 and then gave back a 7-3 lead.

BOX SCORE: Astros 10, Tigers 8

"It's a hard situation," said Sanchez, who gave up two more home runs (11 now on the season). "I never have this situation before. But I am not special. I am not just a baseball player; I am a human...The main thing is to put my face up, believe in God and put all your effort into Him."

His performance Sunday was like a condensed version of what this entire season has been like for him. He alternated between being really bad and utterly brilliant, which is what he's been doing every other start.

He seemed discombobulated at the start. He gave up two fast runs on a triple by Evan Gattis. After walking the next hitter, he bluffed a pickoff throw to third base — an obvious balk — to allow Gattis to score.

Turns out catcher Bryan Holaday had flashed the wrong sign (a pick-third call instead of a pick-first).

Ausmus went out to the mound.

"The first single was a bloop and Gattis, his butt was in our dugout and reached out and hit a ball down the right field line," Ausmus said. "I tried to remind him it wasn't as bad as it seemed. I didn't want him to think things were unraveling."

Sanchez was a different pitcher after that. From the second inning through the fifth, he allowed two baserunners. He struck out the side in the fourth and fifth innings and posted a season-best 11 strikeouts on the day.

"I felt really good," Sanchez said, "except for the score."

The Tigers offense, meanwhile, scored seven runs off Astros starter Roberto Hernandez to take command of the game, 7-3.

But then came the sixth.

Gattis reached out and golfed a slider that was low off of the plate over the fence in left field. He struck out Colby Rasmus and Jason Castro around a single by Chris Carter.

With his pitch count over 100, he gave up a single to Jonathan Villar, which brought the tying run to the plate.

Ausmus had right-hander Alex Wilson warm in the bullpen. He decided to give Sanchez one more hitter, because he figured, correctly, that the Astros would use left-handed hitting Preston Tucker to hit for right-handed hitting Jake Marisnick.

Tucker, whose home run off Joakim Soria tied the game in the ninth inning on Thursday, whacked Sanchez's 115th pitch of the game, a change-up, onto the BelleTire sign beyond the right field fence, a game-tying three-run homer.

Ausmus was asked if he thought he let Sanchez face one too many hitters?

"No, I don't," he said. "He is actually better against lefties than he is against righties."

Lefties hit Sanchez at a .234 clip this season, right-handers .293. Before Sunday, he had allowed three homers to lefties.

"This is where we are now in this day and age," Ausmus said. "If it doesn't work it was the wrong move. If it does work, it was the right move. Sanchez against lefties, with his change-up, is very effective."

The Astros scored twice in the seventh to take the lead. Wilson gave up two singles, but the kill shot came against Angel Nesbitt. He was summoned with two on and two outs. He walked Carter, a .171 hitter, to load the bases.

Then, on a 3-2 count, Castro drilled a two-run single to right field.

"These guys aren't going to be perfect," Ausmus said. "They are human. He's a young kid. He's a rookie. He wasn't going to be perfect. He's hit a speed bump but it doesn't concern me about him. He'll be fine if we need him tomorrow."

The Tigers provided plenty of offense, starting with a five-run first keyed by a three-run double by Holaday. Miguel Cabrera doubled and hit his 11th home run of the season in the ninth.

The Tigers, after a 3-4 home stand, head out on a seven-game road trip to Oakland and Anaheim.

"I know everyone wants to say, 'Could this build some momentum,' or, 'Is this a kick in the gut,'" Ausmus said. "Listen, I can't tell the future, but I know it's a good team. I don't like the way we played today, but it's a good team.

"You hope over 162 games, the fact that it's a good team, bubbles to the surface."

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky