Detroit News sportswriters Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Lynn Henning break down the Detroit Tigers' season after 42 games. Detroit News
Houston — He didn’t have to do it. And maybe initially he resisted.
But after pondering the move for a couple of days, Anibal Sanchez accepted it, wholeheartedly.
The Tigers on Monday optioned the veteran right-hander to Triple-A Toledo, a demotion Sanchez, because he has at least five years of big-league service time, could have refused.
“We want to get the most out of Anibal Sanchez and he wants to get the most out of himself,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It was an idea that we have discussed for about the last 48 hours. He wanted to think on it, but then he came back today and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Sanchez, a starter for most of his 12 seasons, made the club out of spring training as a long reliever. He did not take well to the role. He has allowed 26 runs (21 earned) in 21 innings, including nine home runs.
“He needed reps,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “We came up with the idea and he was really willing to do it. He knew inconsistent work had probably affected him. By getting this plan together and letting him go down there and work on things, get regular sides between starts — we will see what happens.”
Sanchez struggled mightily the first half of spring training. Then after working out a mechanical adjustment with Dubee, he was nearly unhittable in his final three spring starts. But his sporadic work out of the bullpen caused him to regress.
“It’s about having a consistent routine,” Dubee said. “You are always vulnerable to stuff, old habits getting back in there. Without the consistent work, that kind of stuff happens.”
Sanchez will make his first start for the Mud Hens on Tuesday.
“This is something he wants to do in terms of stretching his arm back out and getting his pitch count back up and getting into more of a routine as a starter,” Ausmus said. “We’ve taken this route to see if he can get back to hopefully being a starting pitcher.
“For the foreseeable future, he’ll pitch every five days.”
The end game for this move remains unclear. Whether the hope is Sanchez can work his way back into the Tigers’ starting rotation, or make himself a more viable trade chip — even if the Tigers have to eat some or all of his $16.8 million contract for this season.
“I don’t know what the end game is,” Ausmus said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. If he goes down and pitches well and there is a need at the major-league level — that might be the end game.
“It depends on how he does and how our starters do here. There is nothing etched in stone. We will see if this is a route that gets him back to being a starting pitcher.”
Both Dubee and Ausmus praised Sanchez’s professionalism throughout this process.
“Not one time has he complained or made excuses for any of his performances,” Ausmus said. “He never complained about his usage or his role. He always came to the park in a good mood and always got his workouts in. He’s been a model citizen in that sense.
“I think it’s admirable in a day and age when a lot of players wouldn’t do that. He was willing to go to the minor leagues for the betterment of himself and of the team. It was very unselfish of him. I don’t think you see that a lot these days.”
Dubee, a pitching coach in the big leagues for 17 years, said he couldn’t remember a player of Sanchez’s stature accepting such a demotion.
“No, I can’t and he did it openly,” he said. “It was presented to him, he took a day to think about it and he came and back and said he was all in. It’s impressive. He wants to get things straightened out.”
Sanchez was on the field throwing a side session here several hours before the game. He was packed and gone by the time the media was allowed into the clubhouse.
“Hopefully everything goes good for him,” said Miguel Cabrera, who was not aware that Sanchez had been demoted. “He’s a big part of our team. I know this year and last year have been rough years for him. But we need everybody here. We count on everybody here and we always support each other.
“Hopefully it goes well and he can get strong and come back and help us win.”
Warwick Saupold was recalled from Toledo to replace Sanchez.