Old friends Sanchez, Rodney add to Tigers' offensive troubles, losing streak
Detroit — Written on the grease board inside the Tigers’ clubhouse Friday was this quote from self-help author Napoleon Hill.
“Victory is always possible for the person who refuses to stop fighting.”
They haven’t stopped fighting, not by a long shot, but victory remains elusive.
And victory remains elusive largely because runs have been elusive.
"We just need that one hit to get us rolling," said Tigers catcher Bobby Wilson, after the Tigers lost for the eighth straight time, 3-1, to the Washington Nationals. "It's not for a lack of effort, that's for sure. Guys are here early, working every day.
"But I guess it's time to stop trying and time to start doing. But we're grinding."
It's eight straight losses at home for the Tigers, too, and 21 of their last 23 home decisions. They are producing less than two runs a game during the eight-game losing streak.
And, to rub a little salt in the wound, they were shut down by a familiar face — two of them, actually.
Given up for dead by the Tigers after the 2017 season, right-hander Anibal Sanchez resurrected his career in Atlanta last season and has helped solidify the Nationals rotation this year.
"Definitely this is a place that I haven’t been for awhile," said Sanchez, who struck out eight over six strong innings. "Coming out from the other side, it’s different. You see the uniform but they are the enemy, this team.
"Right now I'm on other side. Probably 90 percent of the team is new. The guys that I know there are Miggy and (Nick) Castellanos. In the end, it’s another team that you have to face."
Castellanos was the only Tiger to do damage against him. He hit a fastball 437 feet over the field-level scoreboard in right-center. It was his eighth homer of the year, but his first since June 11.
He hadn’t hit one at Comerica Park since May 19.
"He (Sanchez) just maneuvers the baseball," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He can make it move all over the place. He's not powerful like he used to be, but he knows how to pitch."
Sanchez gave up six hits — two apiece by Castellanos, Miguel Cabrera and Jeimer Candelario — but the Tigers stranded seven runners in his six innings. They were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position in the game.
That has been the trend during this skid. Over the last seven games, they are 7-for-52 in those situations.
“Our pitchers have held their own,” Gardenhire said. “We’re losing 2-0, 3-1, 4-1. We’re just not scoring enough runs. We don’t take the pressure off them. It’s like a do-or-die situation, even when we go to the pen. Every inning is do or die, we just can’t give up another run because we’re not scoring.
“The way to fix our pitchers and help them feel better about themselves is to score some runs.”
The Tigers didn't score off the Nationals bullpen, either, which is saying something since it ranks last in the National League with a 6.35 ERA.
They threatened in the eighth against right-hander Tanner Rainey. He walked Christin Stewart and Brandon Dixon with one out. Candelario then hit a bullet that caromed off the glove of first baseman Howie Kendrick right to Brian Dozier.
Dozier threw to second and got the force out on Dixon. Dixon had to stop to avoid being hit by Candelario's liner and still made it close at second. The Tigers challenged the call, but it was upheld.
"I looked over at Brian (O'Nora, home plate umpire) and he just said, 'It's not our (call), it's coming from New York,'" Gardenhire said. "It looked like his hand was on there. The replay we saw looked like his fingers were on the base at the same time the ball went into the glove.
"Obviously, somebody didn't think that was enough to overturn. We do. We thought it was enough."
The Nationals then put the final three outs in the hands of another ex-Tiger — the ageless Fernando Rodney. The 42-year-old struck out Harold Castro, pinch-hitter JaCoby Jones and got Victor Reyes to ground out for his first save of the season.
"I’m surprised sometimes because people think I’m too old for the league," Rodney said. "My experience I have. Sometimes it looks easy for the people outside the game. It’s not an easy job.
"I feel comfortable in situations like that. I throw everything I have — fastball, change-up — whatever I have to do to keep the game."
Gardenhire, who managed him in Minnesota, wasn't surprised at all.
"He's an amazing human being," he said. "He's probably a better person than he is a pitcher, and he's a darn good pitcher. Seeing him out there still, it's a testament to how hard he works."
With the likelihood of a bullpen game Saturday and having used five relievers on Thursday, Gardenhire talked before the game about the importance of starter Daniel Norris getting deep into the game.
He did his part in terms of the pitch count. He was at 79 pitches through five innings and he’d allowed just two runs — one a 418-foot home run onto the Pepsi Porch in right field by Juan Soto.
Still, he was lifted after five innings. Norris, from the first inning, was dealing with a cramp in his left groin — the same groin he had surgery on last year.
"His velocity dipped and we decided to get him out," Gardenhire said.
Norris first felt the cramp on a play at first base on the second hitter of the game. He and Adam Eaton got to the bag at the same time and nearly collided.
"I just found a way to work around it," Norris said. "I thought I could navigate through it. I obviously understand the precaution, especially with what we've been going through this year.
"I get it. I just wanted to finish. I really wanted to save our bullpen, that's my only frustration."