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Anibal enjoys return to old form in solid debut

DETROIT -- Anibal Sanchez said at the end of Spring Training that he wasn't worrying about trying to fill Justin Verlander's shoes, or Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello for that matter. Sanchez was worried more about getting back to himself.

Wednesday is a pretty good reminder of the pitcher Sanchez was before his injury-plagued 2014 season.

"Sanchez has a different look in his eye this year, I think, on the mound," manager Brad Ausmus said after Sanchez's 6 2/3 shutout innings in an 11-0 win over the Twins. "I know he got off to that rough start [last year] because of the weather and injuries. He has a different look in his eye this year. It's like he's determined to do something."

Sanchez said there's no different determination, no point to prove. The only difference, according to him, is readiness.

"This year is totally different," Sanchez said, "because I got the opportunity to throw all my starts in Spring Training. It made me feel strong and built my arm like you're supposed to do during Spring Training. Last year, I didn't have that opportunity."

Ausmus didn't see Sanchez up close when he led the American League in ERA two years ago. The skipper only saw him last year, when weather issues in Florida and shoulder inflammation limited Sanchez's Spring Training work, and weather issues up north postponed another outing. Sanchez popped a blister so severely when he faced the Twins last April that he had to go on the disabled list with a lacerated finger. He worked his way back in the summer, only to suffer a pectoral strain in early August that essentially ended his regular season.

Sanchez was able to work on turn all spring, and the difference was enough that not even a cold day in Detroit could stop him. If anything, it fueled him.

"Today was really tough for me, especially because it's really cold outside and I just came from Spring Training where everything's nice," he said. "But today, I made adjustments. I got a couple of heat packs in the dugout, so I use them in between innings and I'm just working as quickly as I can to get out of the cold. ...

"Every inning was quick for me. I threw a lot of strikes. I just tried to put the ball in play just to get out of the innings quickly."

The Twins obliged. Sanchez had just a trio of three-ball counts out of his first 22 hitters until back-to-back walks ran up his pitch count in the seventh. He retired 15 of Minnesota's first 17 batters, seven of them on the first or second pitch.

"He is a guy that sometimes the cold can affect a little bit," catcher Alex Avila said. "But to his credit, he kind of scaled it back rather than trying to make every pitch a nasty, perfect pitch. ... He scaled it back, using more of the middle of the plate rather than the corners, and as we were able to get ahead, then expanded a little bit."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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