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Tigers' Sanchez encouraged by dominant outing

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Sanchez, I presume?

Five days ago, Anibal Sanchez gave up eight runs in four innings to the Rangers. He came into his start Wednesday with an ERA north of 6 (6.31) and a WHIP of 1.580. He’d won one start since April 28.

Then suddenly it’s 2013 again and Sanchez is unhittable?

Go figure.

Sanchez, the American League ERA champ in 2013, breezed through the Royals batting order without giving up a hit until Eric Hosmer doubled with two outs in the seventh.  He was brilliant and left to a rousing standing ovation after seven innings with a 1-0 lead.

“That’s a really good moment,” he said. “When you come out off the field and all crowd is standing up, standing ovation. That represents I did a good job on the mound.”

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The lead would last just one pitch – a home run by Alex Gordon off reliever Justin Wilson leading off the eighth inning. And the Tigers wound up on the wrong side of the scoreboard again, 4-1, but for seven innings, Sanchez was his old self again.

“You know what? I feel good all game,” he said. “But the thing is, I know how many pitches I threw in the first inning. I know no matter how I feel, by the seventh or eighth inning, I know the pitch count is going to be high for me. I don’t think about (no-hitter).

“If I threw a no-hitter or not, I just think keep the score like that (1-0)…I just want to keep the score right there.”

Two walks in the fifth inning was all he’d allowed through six. In the seventh, with his pitch count inching toward 100, he got Cheslor Cuthbert to ground out and he struck out Lorenzo Cain with a change-up.

But he threw a first-pitch curveball to Hosmer, which the left-handed hitter deposited up against the wall in left-center field for a double.

“I knew he was putting everything on the corners,” Hosmer said. “So I just wanted to put a good swing at the first pitch that I could get my bat on.”

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Sanchez struck out eight and with the exception of Hosmer’s double, there were very few hard-hit balls.

“That’s as good as I’ve ever seen Anibal Sanchez throw the ball,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I had seen what he had done in his last start, but I know that when he’s on, he has ridiculous command of his fastball and a phenomenal change-up. That’s what he had tonight.”

He was spotting his fastball – both the two-seamer and four-seamer – with precision. Off of that, he was able to effectively work his slider and change-up. He was also throwing his curveball for strikes. Six of his eight strikeouts were off his change-up.

It was, in short, a total-package effort from Sanchez, something that’s been rare the last two seasons.

“I threw really good games and then a terrible outing against Texas and now I come in with this game,” Sanchez said. “I always say, I'm healthy and I just want to keep working. I believe that everything can change at some point and today is one of those days that everything is come on my side.”

It’s two strong starts out of three, but given the way this season has gone, he’s not about to trust momentum.

“I'm just going to keep working,” he said. “I'm going to keep working my same routine that I did from my last outing to here. I'm not going to say everything is back. I just feel really good. I feel comfortable after this outing. At the end, in five days is a total different day.”

Heck, he was a different pitcher during his pre-game bullpen than he was in the game.

“Definitely no,” he said when asked if he knew he was going to pitch that well. “I feel really out of the sun in the bullpen. I don't feel as confident as I showed in the game. Even when I start the game, I threw like eight pitches and seven to the dirt.

“So I feel uncomfortable at that point. But that's what it is. Sometimes you throw really good warming up and have a really bad game, or it’s the opposite like tonight.”

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Sanchez, indeed.