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After 'refresh,' Sanchez impresses in return

Tigers righty holds Mariners to 2 runs in first start of '17
MLB.com @beckjason

SEATTLE -- The Tigers lost Monday for the seventh time in 10 games. Don't blame Anibal Sanchez.

If anything, credit Sanchez in his first start of the season for doing his job and keeping the Tigers close in what became a 6-2 loss to the Mariners at Safeco Field. It wasn't necessarily smooth, and it felt at times like a high-wire act, but with two runs allowed over five innings in a no-decision, Sanchez did his job.

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SEATTLE -- The Tigers lost Monday for the seventh time in 10 games. Don't blame Anibal Sanchez.

If anything, credit Sanchez in his first start of the season for doing his job and keeping the Tigers close in what became a 6-2 loss to the Mariners at Safeco Field. It wasn't necessarily smooth, and it felt at times like a high-wire act, but with two runs allowed over five innings in a no-decision, Sanchez did his job.

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"He threw pretty well, really," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "I thought he did a good job locating his fastballs, changeup was good, mixed in the breaking ball. He did a nice job."

It's why his return to the Tigers' rotation will include another start, likely Saturday at San Diego. The Tigers have to hope that not only do they get another outing like Monday, but that he gets a little run support to go with it.

But after a three-week hiatus at Triple-A Toledo, he wasn't taking his night for granted, even in defeat.

"Sometimes you need to refresh a lot of things. That's what I did in my time in the Minor Leagues, figure out how I can come back and be successful here," Sanchez said. "I just thank God that I'm healthy and I can work on something and that I'm able to be here and show that I'm able to pitch at this level."

That last part was in serious question when Sanchez left in late May. He was a long reliever generally confined to mop-up duty, trying to fix his pitching in increments every week to 10 days. As humbling a stint as a Mud Hen could be for someone who hadn't pitched in the Minors for reasons other than a rehab assignment since 2006, he was willing to take a step back if it was the only path he saw to move forward.

"When you're in a routine, it's totally different to be in the bullpen," Sanchez said. "In the bullpen, you need to be ready every single day. Something that happened with me in the role that I had, like a long reliever or one inning sometimes. I spent like 10 days [waiting] in the bullpen or eight days, and you don't control that. Nobody controls that, even the manager."

Once Sanchez got to Toledo, he got to work on his mechanics, making them uniform for every pitch. He didn't want hitters picking up on what was coming by his arm speed or his angle. When he was in his prime, every pitch looked the same out of his hand, then broke in different directions once the ball neared the plate, leaving hitters guessing which way it would break.

It's tougher to pull off now with low-90s fastballs and sliders, and changeups in the 80s, than when he could throw everything around 90 or above. But on Monday, he made 93-mph fastballs look sneaky.

Consider that Mariners hitters took six called strikes on Sanchez fastballs, including big situations like a Taylor Motter strikeout to strand the bases loaded in the second inning. He snuck one by Mike Zunino in a similar situation with two on in the fourth. By changing speeds, he made his fastball look harder than it really was.

His lone mistake came when he fell into a pattern, throwing three consecutive fastballs to Guillermo Heredia, who hit the last out for a two-run homer. As the only scoring damage, though, Sanchez will take it. So will the Tigers.

"I think he just got back to his comfort zone," Alex Wilson said. "I thought he threw the ball extremely well."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Anibal Sanchez