Adjustments making difference for Anibal
Pitching with confidence from middle of rubber, Tigers righty spins two-hit shutout
DETROIT -- Somewhere amidst all those early-season home runs, Anibal Sanchez made two adjustments, neither of which was mechanical, but both of which have been vital.
The first was in his confidence.
"He's had some breaks against him," Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones said after Sanchez's two-hit shutout of the Reds in Monday's 6-0 Tigers win.
Sanchez allowed 13 home runs over his first 12 starts, as many homers as he allowed in 50 starts over his previous two seasons combined.
"It seems like every time he made a bad pitch, they were hitting it out of the ballpark," Jones continued, "and then they got some bleeder hits off of him. He hadn't been pitching great, but he was getting no breaks, either."
The most recent homer was a Josh Reddick drive to right field at Comerica Park in the third inning on June 3, building a 4-0 deficit. He hasn't allowed a run in 20 2/3 innings since. On Monday, against a Reds team that ranks second in the National League in homers, Sanchez allowed just four balls to leave the infield.
J.D. Martinez didn't have a ball hit his way all game in right. Speedy center fielder Anthony Gose barely had to move on a warm, humid night.
"I mean, obviously we have to stay in the game," Gose shrugged, "but we have fast innings. Four balls left the infield. It just makes things easier on us."
It's more than just good fortune, however. Better confidence comes from better pitching. For that, Jones made a slight adjustment in where Sanchez stands on the mound.
"We slid him over on the rubber a little bit," Jones said. "He's always been pitching on the first-base side, so we put him more in the middle, because the righties have been having pretty good success against him. That's really the only thing."
It's a subtle adjustment, but there's a purpose to it.
"I think by moving him over," Jones said, "I think it's given him better angle on his breaking ball, and I think it's helped him. When you're facing a righty, if you're way over on the first-base side, they can see the ball easier off you."
His deception is better, but his command is like a different pitcher. The mistakes that were being hit out of the park are no longer mistakes up and over the plate.
"He was down in the zone, spotting it down in the zone," catcher James McCann said. "When he got in trouble, just like any pitcher when he gets in trouble, it's the pitches elevated, out over the plate. He's done a heck of a job hitting his spots with every pitch."
Sanchez pitched to contact, McCann said, and still racked up seven strikeouts. His seventh career shutout required just 112 pitches, 18 fewer than his previous shutout on May 24, 2013. He hadn't even thrown a complete game since then.
Instead of wavering in the late innings, he seemed to get stronger.
"He was pretty much in control the whole way," Jones said. "You could tell right away. He threw good in the bullpen, came out, gave us a couple really good innings to start, and then it just kind of snowballed for him."
This is the Sanchez the Tigers signed long-term a few years ago. This is the Sanchez the Tigers need for their rotation to be formidable. On Monday, he looked like a front-line starter, and he believed it.
"I trust in my stuff," he said, "and I throw it in any situation."