Tigers' Anibal Sanchez demoted to bullpen

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Anaheim, Calif. — Anibal Sanchez took the news like the pro he is, with a mixture of understanding and defiant pride.

“That is a decision I cannot control,” Sanchez said after learning he’d been removed from the Tigers rotation and moved to a bullpen role. “I know they want to do the right thing for the team. But I am going to take my job back. I’m going to work. I’m not a quitter. I am a strong man and I am going to work to get back into the rotation.”

The move was inevitable, especially after Sanchez’s self-proclaimed non-competitive outing against the Angels Tuesday (six runs, eight hits in three innings). In 11 starts, his ERA was 6.67 and he’d allowed 14 home runs in 56⅔ innings, including three in his last start.

In six May starts, he allowed 38 hits and 29 runs (26 earned) in 33 innings. Three years removed from posting the lowest ERA in the American League, Sanchez was pitching without conviction or confidence.

“He definitely could work his way back into the starting rotation, and that’s exactly what I told him,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Right now, there is nothing promised. If people in the rotation are pitching well, they’re going to stay there.

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“Hopefully, Sanchy can get himself right and get back into the rotation, or become a valuable part of our bullpen.”

The Tigers rotation, as it stands now, is Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Verlander, Mike Pelfrey, Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd. Shane Greene finished his rehab assignment Tuesday night, throwing 71 pitches. 

He could come off the disabled list in four days. Ausmus said no decision has been made as to his role when he gets back – either as a late-inning reliever or a starter.

“I’ve said this before, it’s a split camp on whether he should be a starter or a reliever,” Ausmus said. “Some believe he’s best suited as a set-up reliever and others think he has enough pitches to start. I don’t know if I have an answer to which he’s better at.”

Circumstances could dictate Greene’s role. Set-up right-hander Mark Lowe has struggled. He gave up the walk-off home run to C.J. Cron Tuesday night and may have pitched himself out of the set-up role.

“Until we get Lowe right, Justin Wilson will be the guy we lean on in front of K-Rod (closer Francisco Rodriguez),” Ausmus said. “We’ll just try to get through the seventh any way we can.”

Alex Wilson and Kyle Ryan will likely get the bulk of the work in the sixth and seventh. So there is an opening in the pen for Greene.

As for Sanchez’s role?

“To start with, we will try to get him into situations that are low stress so he doesn’t have to worry too much about the score — just working on getting outs and working on his pitches,” Ausmus said. 

The biggest initial adjustment will be trying to get himself ready to pitch on short notice.

“We will try to get him a little extra time if we think he’s going into a game,” Ausmus said. “The other side of it is, he can just come out firing and not worrying about going six or seven innings. He can just come out firing and pitch until he’s done.”

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The shorter outings could produce an increase in velocity for Sanchez. Ausmus said it could also help streamline his mechanics.

“As opposed to pitching on Monday and not being in a game again until Sunday, now you might pitch Tuesday and Wednesday, be off Thursday and pitch again Friday,” he said. “You end up working on your delivery more frequently over a span of time, as opposed to once every five days.

“The repetition of that on a near-daily basis can help. Instead of feeling it once every five days, he will feel it three out of five days, or two out of five days.”

A move to the bullpen has saved or elongated the careers of many veteran starters, Wade Davis probably the most famous in recent years. That’s not how Sanchez is looking at it. For him, this is a motivator.

“It’s a different process than I am used to,” he said. “Now I need to work for something and I am ready for it. I am healthy, that’s the important thing. My head is going to be up. I am going to do what I can control to be back in the rotation.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

Anibal Sanchez throws against the Angels during the first inning Tuesday.