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Sanchez struggling to maintain arm strength in bullpen role

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Cleveland — Anibal Sanchez threw 35 pitches in a brutal 1.1 innings (six runs, seven hits, two home runs) on Thursday. But there he was Friday afternoon in the outfield at Progressive Field throwing long-toss, well beyond 120 feet.

Throwing long-toss after an outing has never been part of Sanchez’s routine. But, desperate times call for desperate measures.

“Just trying to keep my (arm) strong,” he said. “I think one of the things that happened yesterday — I came out of the bullpen and I keep my ball weak.”

Sanchez had his fastball velocity up to 92-93 mph in his final few outings of spring training. But in three bullpen appearances, he is barely hitting 91. He has been a starter his entire career and had his five-day program down to a science.

It’s been a challenge to find a workable between-outing regimen with his irregular bullpen duty. The long-toss Friday is part of a new arm-strengthening program.

Manager Brad Ausmus didn’t mince words when asked about Sanchez Friday. The onus is clearly on Sanchez to figure things out.

“There is no question he prefers to start,” he said. “He told us that and I understand that. The reality is, he’s in the ’pen right now and he’s got to pitch well. Because the truth is, when we do need another starter and he’s not pitching well, then we have to find someone else.

“We need him to pitch well, even if it is a difficult transition for him.”

Hail Cuevas

It had to feel a little like déjà vu for new Tigers’ right-hander William Cuevas.

Last year, he was recalled by the Red Sox on April 19. This year, he got the call from the Tigers on April 13.

“It feels pretty much the same as last year,” he said. “I beat my own record (laughs).”

Cuevas, 26, only saw action in five games for the Red Sox last season, but he had a successful season in Triple-A last year and caught the Tigers’ eye during the Venezuelan Winter League (where he was 6-0 with a 2.08 ERA).

Although he is Venezuelan by birth, he pitched for Columbia in the World Baseball Classic, which interrupted the impressive spring he was having for the Tigers. He made one start for Toledo, throwing six shutout, three-hit innings, before being called up.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I am just ready to work, ready to help the team. I’m just working the same way, preparing the same. I probably have more experience; that will help a little bit more.”

J.D. Martinez closer

J.D. Martinez could be cleared to run on the field by Saturday.

Ausmus said Martinez on Thursday ran with 75 percent of his body weight on the AlterG treadmill. Once he gets to 80 percent, which was expected on Friday or Saturday, he could begin running the bases and doing outfield work.

“He’s throwing out to 210 feet,” Ausmus said, reading the text message Martinez had sent him on Thursday. “Doing flips (soft toss batting practice), batting practice, machine work, no problems.”

Ausmus said it hasn’t yet been decided where Martinez will start his rehab assignment — either extending spring training or with High-A Lakeland.

Martinez, on the disabled list with a sprained Lisfranc ligament in his right foot, may join the team in Tampa next week at least for batting practice.

Around the horn

Ausmus said he plans to start Miguel Cabrera at first base for all three games in Cleveland. The Tigers have an off-day on Monday. There is a chance Cabrera will DH a game in Tampa next week. There is a new turf field at Tropicana Field. “Miggy’s back flared up on the turf in Mexico City during the WBC,” he said. “That would be a consideration.” The infield at the Trop is all dirt, as it was before.

… According to FanGraphs.com, Nick Castellanos has the highest hard-hit rate in the major leagues through nine games. He is hitting the ball hard 71.4 percent of his at-bats. Which makes his .222 batting average seem hard to fathom.

TIGERS AT INDIANS

First pitch: 4:10 p.m. Saturday, Progrssive Field, Cleveland

TV/radio: FSD, FS1/97.1

Scouting report

RHP Corey Kluber (0-1, 5.25), Indians: He’s off to a wobbly start — allowing seven earned runs in 12 innings over starts at Texas and Arizona. But he was stingy with the Tigers last year. In four starts, he was 3-0 with 0.821 WHIP. Until last season, he had struggled against the Tigers (2-6, 4-plus ERA).

RHP Justin Verlander (1-0, 1.35), Tigers: Since August of 2015 he leads all American League pitchers with a 2.83 ERA. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 20 straight starts, which is tied with Daniel Norris for the longest active streak.

Twitter @cmccosky