LAKELAND, Fla. -- Anibal Sanchez made a three-hour drive a couple days ago to work on his mechanics with a side session caught by his manager, Brad Ausmus, and observed by his pitching coach, Rich Dubee. The results of his work didn't take nearly that long Wednesday.One inning after another,
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Anibal Sanchez made a three-hour drive a couple days ago to work on his mechanics with a side session caught by his manager, Brad Ausmus, and observed by his pitching coach, Rich Dubee. The results of his work didn't take nearly that long Wednesday.
One inning after another, Sanchez sent the Braves down in order in Detroit's 8-6 win, starting with the veteran center of the lineup. By the time he was done Wednesday, Sanchez had faced that middle twice, striking out All-Star Freddie Freeman both times, and retired 12 in a row.
It was amazingly smoother than any other outing Sanchez has had this spring, and the first tangible sign that the struggling right-hander might have a turnaround in him. His velocity was no different than his other outings, from a fastball in the low 90s to offspeed pitches in the mid-80s. The movement behind the pitches, however, was sneaky.
"It looked like the ball had more life on it," Ausmus said. "He was getting swings and misses. I think he was very pleased with it. It's certainly a step in the right direction."
That's exactly how Sanchez is approaching it. After working with Dubee to shift his arm slot slightly, holding his arm a little further away from his head, Sanchez wasn't comfortable so much as encouraged.
"I think I need to continue working," he said. "I think everything was perfect, really good today, and my pitching coach is working a lot. We need to continue working. Today is one step."
Sanchez, who entered the day with 11 earned runs allowed on 15 hits over 5 2/3 innings this spring, entered in the third inning after Jordan Zimmermann gave up four runs in the first inning. He went to a 3-1 count on Freeman before spotting an off-speed pitch to run the count full, then sent a fastball by the slugging first baseman.
That first out seemingly allowed Sanchez to settle in, inducing a Matt Kemp groundout and called third strike on Nick Markakis to end the inning. He took the mound in the fourth with the lead and picked up where he left off, spotting third strikes on Johan Camargo and Ronald Acuna -- the latter a sneaky fastball on the inside corner.
"It's just life [on the fastball]," Ausmus cautioned. "I wouldn't say movement. … It gets on the hitter."
Sanchez needed just six pitches to retired the side in order in the fifth, earning him another inning. Once Markakis flew out to the edge of the warning track in right field, Sanchez left to an ovation, fans standing in some areas.
"I feel the difference," Sanchez said, "but I feel good. It's not like a big deal. It's no big change. It's just being consistent in that little touch."
He doesn't believe he has it all solved just yet, not after a year and a half of struggles. He has seen enough to continue to work with Dubee, who told reporters last week that Sanchez needs to do more with what he has rather than wait for his old velocity to come back.
"He sees something that I needed, an adjustment that I have to make to continue pitching," Sanchez said. "He saw something, and we're working on that, and I'm trusting in everything he's saying right now."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.