Detroit — Victor Martinez stopped Anibal Sanchez as he was walking through the clubhouse after the Tigers’ 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday.
“I just asked him where he’s been,” he said. “He laughed.”
The real Anibal Sanchez made what has been an all-too infrequent appearance at Comerica Park. He struck out a season-high 10 batters in six innings and left to a standing ovation trailing 1-0 with two on and nobody out in the top of the seventh.
Had he written the script, the story would have ended there.
“It was great seeing him go out and be himself,” Martinez said. “It was a great sign, man, a great sign. It’s just too bad our side, the offense, didn’t get anything done for him. He really pitched a great game.”
The Tigers bats were iced by Twins soft-throwing left-hander Tommy Milone, who allowed one hit — a James McCann single in the third — over eight innings. The Tigers finally put something together in the ninth — five singles, two runs and they left the bases loaded — but it was too little, too late.
“The guy threw the ball good,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately somebody has to lose. We came out on the wrong side.”
The standing ovation for Sanchez turned quickly to boos for reliever Bruce Rondon in the seventh inning.
The first hitter he faced was Eduardo Nunez, and he had him in a 1-2 hole. Rondon threw a high slider that froze Nunez. It was called a ball. Rondon came back with the same pitch and Nunez slapped it up the middle, scoring both runners.
“More often than not it’s about the location of the pitch, not the selection,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
Two batters later, Rondon gave up an RBI single to Joe Mauer on a 1-2 pitch. Brian Dozier followed that by depositing a 97-mph fastball into the seats in left field.
The five-run seventh seemed like overkill at the time, considering how little the Tigers could do with Milone for eight innings.
But Twins manager Paul Molitor sent Milone back out for the ninth in search of his first ever complete-game shutout and-or his first nine inning complete game since 2012.
He got neither.
Singles by Cameron Maybin and Miguel Cabrera, then an RBI single by Martinez and a sacrifice fly by Nick Castellanos made it 6-2 and chased Milone.
Brandon Kintzler came on and promptly gave up singles to Justin Upton and Mike Aviles to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate.
Poof. McCann and Jose Iglesias struck out to end the game.
“The last few days our bats have been a little quiet,” Ausmus said.
Yep. The Twins have given up more runs than any team in the American League this season and rank last in team ERA and WHIP. And the Tigers have mustered three runs in two games against Ricky Nolasco and Milone.
“You wouldn’t think it would happen the way it did, but the truth is, sometimes as a team you struggle to score runs,” Ausmus said. “For whatever reason. Oftentimes it doesn’t matter who is on the mound. You are just struggling. That’s kind of been the case the last few days.”
During this post-break home stand, Martinez is 2 for 18 and Cabrera 2 for 17. There were plenty of hard-hit balls, though. Upton hit a ball 418 feet to the angle in left-center field off Milone that was caught at the fence.
“You know what, man, I don’t care about good swings, I want results,” Martinez said. “When you are struggling, people aren’t going to see that you are hitting the ball hard, they just see in the paper that you are struggling and they start to talk about you.
“Who cares if you hit the ball good or not? People want results. We want results. That’s the bottom line.”
Sanchez, though, provided a ray of light in an otherwise dismal night. He came in with an ERA just of 6.75. He had allowed 12 runs and 13 hits over 8 1/3 innings in his previous two starts. He hadn’t gotten beyond the fifth inning in his previous four starts.
Something clicked. He was spotting his two-seam and four-seam fastball much better, moving it in and out. He was using his off-speed and breaking balls up and down in the zone.
“Today was like the first day of the year,” Sanchez said. “Everything was together. The location was there. Location has killed me all year long. I felt like I put everything together tonight. My fastball was pretty good, especially when I put it down in the zone.
“When I am able to throw that pitch right there, I can use the rest of my pitches.”
In the second inning, he struck out Dozier and Sano on six pitches. He threw all two-seamers to Dozier. He started Sano with an off-speed and then threw him two fastballs.
He struck out the side in order in the fifth, then struck out the side again in the sixth after a leadoff single. The last time he struck out 10 in a game — May 24, 2015.
The first run off him was fluky. In the third, Maybin lost a fly ball in the sun, which put runners on first and third with one out. Nunez plated the run with a sacrifice fly.
In the seventh, he got two quick strikes on Kennys Vargas and ended up walking him. Kurt Suzuki then ended his night with a single. The standing ovation touched him.
“Always the fans have been really good,” he said. “They are always there for us and sometimes they deserve more than we can do, especially myself. But I am turning everything around. I want to continue to throw the ball like that for the rest of the year and help bring some wins.”
Ausmus said no decision was made on whether Sanchez will start again in five days, but Sanchez seems to think he will.
“I think I am going to be on the mound in five days,” he said. “That’s what I know right now… That’s what I can tell you now. I don’t know if that’s the decision, but right now, that’s what I think.”
It's plausible the Tigers would want Daniel Norris to make one more rehab start to get his pitch-count closer to 90. That would give Sanchez at least one more start.