Detroit – Anibal Sanchez insists there is no mental block. He isn’t seeing demons when he gets to the sixth inning or the third time through the order.
If anything, he feels snake bit.
“It’s not like I throw four hits in the same inning,” Sanchez said after the Rays snapped the Tigers four-game win streak with a 7-5 victory at Comerica Park Friday. “One little pitch, one little mistake and it changes everything.
“Are the results bad? Yeah. And that’s the problem; the results are bad.”
Still, Sanchez remains on unfriendly terms with the sixth inning. He’s now allowed 11 runs in that inning, including two tie-breaking runs Friday. Opponents came into the game hitting .341 against him with a 1.181 OPS the third time they face him in a game.
“I’m not sure if it’s mental, to be honest with you,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It’s something where he just has to get through it one time, either because he’s pitching well or the batters just made outs.”
The sixth inning was capped by a three-run triple by Kevin Kiermaier off lefty reliever Kyle Ryan that broke a 3-3 tie.
Sanchez, who spotted the Rays three runs in the first, was at 81 pitches through five innings and had retired 10 straight. He had allowed just one hit since the first.
“We had two guys warming up in case something happened,” Ausmus said. “I felt at the end of the fifth he was cruising. But sometimes in baseball something happens and a switch is flipped from one inning to the next.”
The Tigers lived through that in Sanchez’s two previous starts – a three-run sixth inning against the Orioles after allowing two singles through five and a two-run home run to Daniel Murphy after allowing three hits through five.
So when Sanchez allowed a single to Evan Longoria and a walk to Steve Pearce to open the sixth, Ausmus pulled him.
“The last three outings I get to the fifth inning with like 75 pitches,” Sanchez said. “I can’t say that I’m tired.”
Enter Ryan. He has been a stalwart out of the pen this season, allowing only two inherited runners to score in 16 outings. He struck out left-handed hitting Corey Dickerson and got Desmond Jennings to ground out to second.
But he walked left-handed hitting Logan Morrison, who entered the game hitting .170, to load the bases.
Kiermaier, another lefty, hit the first pitch he saw from Ryan down the right field line, clearing the bases. Two of the runs were charged to Sanchez.
“Ryan did a good job getting it to two outs,” Ausmus said. “He pitched carefully to Morrison with the base open. He threw a slider to Kiermaier. He tried to get it down and away and he left it over the middle. It’s part of the game.”
Still, Ausmus said Sanchez needs to clear whatever barrier he’s facing – be it the sixth inning or third time through the order.
“If we start pulling our starters after two times through the order, we’re going to have a bullpen that’s in pieces by July,” he said.
The Tigers fought out of the first three-run hole. After Cameron Maybin, who had three singles and a stolen base, executed a hit-and-run single to send Justin Upton to third base in the second inning, Rays starter Matt Andriese balked in Upton with the first run.
Miguel Cabrera, who hit his seventh and eighth home runs of the season and flew out to the wall in center, tied it in the third hitting a two-run shot to the seats in right field.
“Miggy is coming around nicely,” Ausmus said. “He’s starting to really drive the ball. He hit three balls that probably traveled 1,200 feet.”
The Tigers wasted a great chance to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth. James McCann, who was in a 4 for 38 funk, singled to make cut the Rays' lead to 6-4.
The Tigers had the bases loaded with one out. But, Jose Iglesias swung at the first pitch offered by right-handed reliever Erasmo Ramirez and grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Cabrera’s second home run, which cut the deficit to one in the seventh, was a monster. He hit it off the camera well in center field, 431 feet. According to Statcast, the exit velocity was 111 mph.
The Rays continued to flex their MLB-leading home run muscle, though. Steve Pearce blasted his seventh home run of the year off Alex Wilson leading off the eighth – making it 7-5.
The Rays have hit 60 home runs this season, including one by Steven Sousa, Jr.. on Sanchez's second pitch of the game.
The Tigers had runners at first and third with two outs in the ninth against Rays closer Alex Colome, but Victor Martinez grounded out to end the game.
“We swung the bats all right, but when you give up seven runs, it’s tough to win a game,” Ausmus said.
As for what to do about Sanchez, Ausmus was short and to the point.
“You will see him in five days and we’ll see how it goes,” he said.