DETROIT -- The confidence is growing in Anibal Sanchez with each pitch -- and with all the different pitches he's throwing these days. After Thursday's 6-2 win over the Giants at Comerica Park, the comeback story is gaining momentum.It's confidence from Sanchez in himself. It's confidence from the Tigers in
DETROIT -- The confidence is growing in Anibal Sanchez with each pitch -- and with all the different pitches he's throwing these days. After Thursday's 6-2 win over the Giants at Comerica Park, the comeback story is gaining momentum.
It's confidence from Sanchez in himself. It's confidence from the Tigers in him.
When Sanchez broke out the "mariposa" (butterfly) changeup to Brandon Crawford, the Giants shortstop had fouled off a fastball, sinker and splitter. The resulting swing from Crawford at a 71-mph pitch for a third-inning strikeout resembled the Bugs Bunny cartoon where the rabbit perplexes hulking hitters with a super slow pitch.
It's a pitch that Sanchez usually throws just a few times a game. But when Crawford came back to the plate in the fifth inning and shrugged off a couple fastballs, Sanchez went back to the changeup. This one came in at 72 mph. Down again went Crawford, this time on a foul tip.
"I had the chance to throw it, and I did," Sanchez said. "And he missed both of them. I'm not going to say he chased out of the strike zone. Both of them were right there. He put hard swings on them and he missed."
An inning later, Crawford was on deck. But with two runs in and another runner in scoring position, with Shane Greene and Daniel Stumpf warming, Sanchez was possibly on his last batter. A pair of RBI hits had revived the question about the third trip through the batting order for Sanchez and whether he had the stuff to get through it.
Up came Jae-Gyun Hwang, who took a cutter inside for a called third strike with a runner on in the fourth. He fouled off a harder changeup at the knees and a fastball inside for a 1-2 count, but Sanchez went back to his velocity, coaxing Hwang to chase a 93-mph fastball below the zone.
It was Sanchez's eighth strikeout of the afternoon, his highest total since last August. With six innings complete, a three-run lead intact and the Tigers' bullpen summoned for nine outs rather than 10, it was Sanchez's biggest out in a while.
"He's kind of a slowly earning a little bit more confidence in me as well," manager Brad Ausmus said, "in terms of allowing him to go deeper into a lineup, at least a portion of that third time."
Hard as it to remember, Sanchez has had other good recent stretches. He put up four quality starts in a five-start stretch last August before sputtering through September. This feels different. The obvious change is the stretch he spent at Triple-A Toledo, accepting a Minor League assignment to start again. The other difference is what he's throwing.
Sanchez has three consecutive quality starts and 22 strikeouts over 23 1/3 innings since rejoining the Tigers rotation. He hasn't changed his pitches, but he has changed how -- and how hard -- he throws them. In doing so, he has remade his game. In a league where hard-throwing young starters are all over big league rotations, Sanchez is the wily veteran succeeding with slower stuff. The dichotomy from Daniel Norris' struggles to Sanchez's surprising effectiveness denotes that.
It also shows what confidence can do for a pitcher at any age.
"I think of every pitch like a shot, and I use it," Sanchez said. "I can throw any pitch in any situation. If it's a ball, it's a ball. If it's a strike, it's a strike. But at least I tried to make something different."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.