Seattle — There were no promises made to Anibal Sanchez.
When he was summoned from Triple-A Toledo on Sunday, all he was told was he was getting the ball Monday night. Whatever happened beyond that was up to him.
That’s all the opening he needed. His five-inning effort in the 6-2 loss to the Mariners on Monday has earned Sanchez at least another start.
“Yeah, I would think so,” manager Brad Ausmus said, though he added the topic hadn’t yet been discussed with general manager Al Avila.
“He threw pretty well, really. I thought he did a good job locating his fastballs, changeup was good, mixed in the breaking ball. He did a nice job.”
Sanchez, who started the season in the Tigers’ bullpen, was sent, with his permission, to Toledo on May 23 to build his arm back up to be a starter. That process was set back by a hamstring injury, but he pitched well in his last start with the Mud Hens and was recalled after Buck Farmer faltered in his last two starts.
Clearly, he was back in his comfort zone.
“He was great,” reliever Alex Wilson said. “I think his confidence — he’s back to what he knows and getting back to a routine he’s comfortable with. It looked like he was ready to rock and roll, and hopefully he can continue to do that for us.”
He walked two batters and hit another in the second, but struck out Taylor Motter, freezing him with a 93-mph fastball, to escape the jam. He got a double-play liner to get out of the third and then struck out the red-hot Mike Zunino — again freezing him with a fastball — with two on in the fourth.
“He had a good fastball working,” catcher Alex Avila said. “And he always has a good change-up. He was able to mix in a few breaking balls, too. Overall, he pitched really well. He made one mistake with the fastball.”
That came in the fifth, a two-run blast by Guillermo Heredia. It came one batter after Sanchez had taken a hard-hit come-backer by Motter off his right calf. It took him a few minutes to stretch the calf out before resuming.
He had been successful keeping the Mariners off-balance by varying the speeds of his pitches. There was a two-batter sequence in the fourth inning where he threw eight pitches a speed variance between six and 10 mph on each pitch. That was his MO most of the night; put the Mariners hitters in a rocking chair.
“That was something that I worked on in the minor leagues,” Sanchez said. “To throw every pitch the same, with the same arm speed. I try to make every pitch come out of my hand the same.
“That was a problem before. Sometimes (his arm) goes slow with off-speed pitches or faster with fastballs. I think it’s something the hitters were ready for.”
The deception was there. He got three swings and misses and five called strikes with a fastball that averaged 91.4 mph.
With Heredia, though, Sanchez perhaps got a little greedy. He had induced weak contact the first two times he faced him with fastballs. So, when he came up with one on and one out in the fifth, Sanchez started him with a change-up and then threw three straight fastballs.
The third, on a 2-1 pitch, was sent over the wall in left-center field.
“I feel really good,” Sanchez said. “I don’t think the home run was a bad pitch (selection). I think the pitch was down the middle and he swung. Overall, I feel really good for the first outing in a while here.”
Avila agreed that the pitch selection wasn’t the issue. It’s where it was pitched.
“He had good command of the fastball,” Avila said. “Went in a couple of times and that one, being behind in the count, we were just trying to make a good pitch down and away and it ended up thigh-high middle.
“That one mistake, that’s going to happen. I think overall he pitched great.”
It wasn’t the storybook return he and his teammates may have been hoping for. But it was encouraging. Sanchez, contractually, could have refused a demotion to Triple A. Instead, he used it as a platform to work himself back to being an option for the fifth spot in the Tigers rotation.
“Sometimes you need to refresh a lot of things,” he said. “That’s what I did in my time in the minor leagues. Figure out how I can come back and be successful here. I just thank God that I’m healthy and I can work on some things and that I’m able to be here and show that I’m able to pitch at this level.”