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Sanchez aims to get in zone consistently in Game 5

Right-hander coming off 12-strikeout, six-walk Game 1 performance

DETROIT -- Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez usually does well with extra rest, but it didn't help him in his first postseason start against the Athletics.

Sanchez, pitching on eight days' rest, allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings in a 6-3 Division Series loss. He was better on four days' rest when he faced the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Sanchez pitched six hitless innings, walking six and striking out 12 in the Tigers' 1-0 victory.

"He started out a little similar and then he got it going," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I think that layoff really hurt him in that Oakland start, to be honest with you. I think it hurt him a lot and then he came back and pitched a few days later in that second start and he got it going real good."

During the regular season, Sanchez had a 3.78 ERA with four days' rest and a 1.60 ERA when he had six or more days' rest. But this is the playoffs and the Tigers are just hoping that Sanchez will be close to what he was on Saturday in Boston. His control was erratic, but his stuff was overpowering.

"My pitches were moving really good that day," Sanchez said. "I was ahead in some counts, that helped me striking them out. That was the key. That helped me that day."

Sanchez was the first starting pitcher to record 12 strikeouts and six walks in a playoff game since Hall of Famer Walter Johnson did so in 12 innings for the Washington Senators against the New York Giants in Game 1 of the 1924 World Series. Sanchez was also only the second pitcher with at least 12 strikeouts in no more than six innings in a postseason game.

"His stuff, at times, is probably some of the nastiest stuff we have on the team," Detroit catcher Alex Avila said. "He was erratic, but he was still able to make big pitches. That's what makes him so good -- he's very unpredictable. He throws stuff in counts a hitter wouldn't normally see, just to keep them off balance."

Tale of the Tape: Game 5
Jon Lester
Red Sox
Anibal Sanchez
2013 regular season
Overall: 33 GS, 15-8, 3.75 ERA Overall: 28 GS, 14-8, 2.57 ERA
Key stat: He has a 2.70 ERA when getting run support of two runs or fewer. Key stat: He held the Red Sox without a hit in six innings in Game 1.
At Comerica Park
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 7.94 ERA
Career: 3 GS, 1-0, 4.58 ERA
2013: 14 GS, 8-3, 2.70 ERA
Career: 20 GS, 11-5, 2.92 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: 3 GS, 2-1, 3.32 ERA
Career: 8 GS, 2-3, 4.24 ERA
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA
Career: 2 G (2 GS), 1-0, 6.10 ERA
Loves to face: Omar Infante, 2-for-9, .444 OPS
Hates to face: Miguel Cabrera , 11-for-22, 1.392 OPS
Loves to face: Shane Victorino, 10-for-46, .584 OPS
Hates to face: David Ortiz, 3-for-6, 2.167 OPS
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: He's allowed nine hits over 14 postseason innings in 2013. Why he'll win: He has command of his changeup.
Pitcher beware: The short right porch at Comerica makes inside pitches to left-handed hitters dangerous. Pitcher beware: He walked six in Game 1 and needed 116 pitches to get through six innings.
Bottom line: He's at his best when aggressive; he's thrown at least 70 strikes in both postseason starts. Bottom line: The Red Sox couldn't touch him in Game 1, why change anything?

It was a magical night for Sanchez, but he said he is not dwelling on it. Thursday's Game 5 of the ALCS, live on FOX at 8 p.m. ET, is another pivotal game for the Tigers despite how dominating their starting pitching has been in the series.

"That was a big win for the team," Sanchez said. "But that day is in the past. Right now, we need to focus on [winning every game]. I know the situation. I'm not going to think too much about where we're at or what we've got. I need to go out there and throw a good ballgame and get another win."

Sanchez takes the mound with the series tied at two games each. A victory from Sanchez on Thursday night puts the Tigers one win away from returning to the World Series.

"I know Anibal is going to pitch a great game," outfielder Torii Hunter said.

"I look for more excellence," reliever Joaquin Benoit said. "He is unbelievable. You saw him in the first game. I think he'll take a little different approach to make sure the leadoff hitter doesn't get on base so much and try to walk fewer batters."

The six walks were uncharacteristic. Sanchez averaged 2.67 walks per nine innings during the regular season. In 173 career starts, he has walked five or more batters just 11 times. His season high was five on July 19 against Kansas City. He was pitching on seven days' rest in that game because it was his first start since the All-Star break, and he allowed just one run on four hits in six innings.

When he is throwing the ball over the plate, Sanchez is tough. Opponents hit .227 off him with a .286 on-base percentage that were both the seventh lowest in the league. Opponents also had a .330 slugging percentage against him, the third lowest.

He does it by effectively mixing four pitches. During the regular season, Sanchez threw his fastball 47 percent of the time, the lowest ratio among the Tigers' five starters. Rick Porcello had the highest ratio with 61 percent fastballs. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer went with their fastball 56 percent of the time and Doug Fister was at 50.6. Sanchez threw his changeup 24.8 percent of the time and his slider 21.4 percent, both the highest ratios among the five starters.

"Every game is different, the pitches could be moving a lot or something like that," Sanchez said. "But I need to work on throwing strikes. The last time I threw too many away, and I don't want to do that in my next outing."

The next one is going to be a big one.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.
Read More: Detroit Tigers, Anibal Sanchez