New delivery helps Sanchez sparkle in spring debut

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Anibal Sanchez throws against the Phillies in the first inning Monday.

Lakeland, Fla. – The Tigers have tried over the last couple of years to get Anibal Sanchez to get rid of the upper-body rotation in his delivery.

Finally, after enduring a pectoral injury, plus shoulder and triceps discomfort the last couple of years – not to mention allowing a career-worst 29 home runs last year – Sanchez has conceded.

He no longer turns his back to the hitter at the start of his delivery, and after his successful spring debut Monday, he probably wishes he would have made the change sooner.

“I don’t turn at all,” he said after throwing four scoreless and hitless innings in a 4-3 spring loss to the Phillies. “I just keep it simple and straight. That’s the way I used to pitch. It’s so much better (on the arm). I feel a lot looser and not tight in the arm. It’s so different. I am able to pitch and work out and not feel sore.”

He walked the first man he faced then promptly induced a double-play grounder and proceeded to retire 11 straight hitters. All 12 outs were by strikeouts (three) or groundouts.

He threw 54 pitches, 33 strikes, and finished with a breezy nine-pitch fourth inning.

BOX SCORE: Phillies 4, Tigers 3

“That was phenomenal for a first outing in a big-league spring training game,” catcher James McCann said. “He’s been working hard. He had some real good downward plane on his pitches. Every pitch came out looking the same and he’s got like 17 million different pitches and they all were working.”

Sanchez has battled both triceps inflammation and a nasty virus most of the spring. But he threw pain-free Monday.

“That outing makes me comfortable,” Sanchez said. “First outing in spring training you have a lot of concerns – mechanics, first time you face hitters, first time in front of a crowd, a lot of things happen in the first game.”

Very little of it seemed to faze him.

“I threw all my pitches and focused on putting the ball down in the zone,” he said.

The simplified delivery helped him keep the ball down.

“He’s getting more north-to-south action than east to west,” McCann said. “That’s what you want. It’ll be better for his arm and make it easier to adjust pitch to pitch.”

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It also makes it easier to hold runners on base. His delivery time to home plate is significantly reduced.

“It helps keep him on line, most importantly,” manager Brad Ausmus said of the new delivery. “When you turn your back to home plate, you have to return. If you’re not exactly on time, you can end up over-turning and your arm drags, or you can not quite be there. It’s kind of a wasted movement.

“There’s a handful of pitchers that do it, but I never understood why they did it.”

Sanchez will get at least two more starts before the end of spring training. He is the No. 3 starter in the rotation, but he has been pushed to the back of the rotation to give him an extra week.

Most likely, while the Tigers open the season in Miami, Sanchez will either pitch a minor-league game or a simulated game.  If all goes well, Sanchez could make his regular-season debut as early as April 9 against the Yankees.

“He’s right on track,” Ausmus said.

Closer Francisco Rodriguez also worked a scoreless, hitless inning. But left-handed relievers Justin Wilson and Blaine Hardy each gave up a pair of runs.

Miguel Cabrera singled in a run and Mike Aviles tripled in the second run.

Phillies starter Aaron Nola gave up just one run and two hits in six strong innings, helping snap the Tigers’ seven-game spring winning streak.

Twitter @cmccosky