September 26th, 2012

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Royals

1. Austin Jackson, cf (2-for-16, 5 K’s against Guthrie)
2. Quintin Berry, lf
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3b (7-for-19, 2 HR off Guthrie)
4. Prince Fielder, 1b
5. Delmon Young, dh (3-for-21 off Guthrie)
6. Andy Dirks, rf
7. Jhonny Peralta, ss
8. Alex Avila, c
9. Omar Infante, 2b
P: Rick Porcello

1. David Lough, cf
2. Alcides Escobar, ss
3. Alex Gordon, lf (9-for-26, HR off Porcello)
4. Billy Butler, dh (12-for-38, 3 2B against Porcello)
5. Salvador Perez, c
6. Mike Moustakas, 3b
7. Jeff Francoeur, rf
8. Eric Hosmer, 1b (5-for-12, 2 HR off Porcello)
9. Irving Falu, 2b
P: Jeremy Guthrie

A whole different Anibal

Gerald Laird said he saw this coming from Anibal Sanchez.

“You could see it coming the last couple outings,” Laird said after Sanchez’s complete-game three-hitter in a 2-0 win over the Royals Tuesday night. “His stuff’s gotten a lot better. He’s starting to feel comfotrtable, kind of finding himself on this team. Tonight, I knew after the second inning, he’s got good stuff tonight. It’s going to be fun.”

Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones was optimistic.

“I think every time he goes out there, he gets a little more comfortable,” Jones said. “The quality of his stuff has been really good his last few times out.”

Two starts before his Tuesday night gem, Sanchez took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Cleveland before three consecutive hits knocked him out of the game. He had the shadows of a late afternoon start at Progressive Field working in his favor, but he also had tremendous command of the strike zone. For whatever reason — comfort zone, knowing AL hitters, whatever — he didn’t seem to have that before.

Then last week, he came back and had five solid innings against Oakland before giving up a four-run sixth.

This time, he sustained it.

“I felt more strong on every pitch,” Sanchez said. “I tried to be aggressive all the time. I don’t want to miss, I don’t want to leave any pitch for the hitters. I don’t want to give any chances, especially today. I know the game’s important and we are in the end of the season, we’re really close in the race in the AL Central.”

The result was not only sustained velocity, but sustained command. According to data from brooksbaseball and Gameday, he has gained a full mph on his fastball from August to September, now just under 94 mph, and he’s mixing his pitches more.

On Tuesday, he was able to throw fastballs with movement at 94-95 mph, while throwing 12 of his 16 curveballs for strikes. He got 17 swings and misses from Royals hitters, seven of them from sliders, on his way to 10 strikeouts. He also got 14 ground balls compared with six in the air.

“It was fun for me,” Laird said. “I just continued to put fingers down, and he continued to make pitches. The main thing I kept stressing was strike one. Let’s keep getting ahead of them and expanding. He did exadtly that. He’d get strike one and then throw one just off the plate, get them to reach, and then roll one over.

“He was getting a lot of quick outs. When you have command of four pitches in one night, it makes it tough for any lineup.”

The comfort level, Laird believes, is a big part of it, not only in Sanchez learning hitters but with his catchers learning him.

“We knew what we were getting when we got him over here,” Laird said. “This is the guy we thought we were getting. I’m just glad he’s hitting his stride right now.”

If Sanchez can sustain that — not so much the complete games as the consistent command into the middle and late innings — then the Tigers rotation looks that much more formidable. He’ll have to adjust a little bit when he faces Kansas City again on Monday, this time on the road. Beyond that, though, a potential date in the postseason would likely line him in the middle of a Division Series. In this year’s format, that means pitching on the road.

That type of stuff can play in a lot more places than Comerica Park.

“That’s him right here,” said Cabrera, his old Marlins teammate. “He’s not going to pitch nine innings every game, but I see the confidence and I see the control. I see everything. When you see a pitcher like that, he’s a tough night for hitters.”

Cabrera’s Triple Crown chase at a glance – Sept. 25

Miguel Cabrera was one of the rare Tigers with tremendous numbers off Bruce Chen heading into Wednesday, but he ended up hitless Tuesday, going 0-for-3 to end his 14-game hitting streak. Instead, he won a critical game for the Tigers with his glove, reaching high to rob Salvador Perez of at least an RBI single and maybe more.

Here’s the latest look at where  Cabrera stands in his quest for the first batting Triple Crown in 45 years:

Batting average: .329 (1st)

What was an eight-point lead for Cabrera over Mike Trout coming into Tuesday is down to three points over Joe Mauer (.326), whose 3-for-4 performance against the Yankees raised his average four points. He’s batting close to .400 for the month, well better than Trout, and looks more and more like Cabrera’s next great threat if Cabrera retakes the home-run lead.

Home runs: 42 (2nd) – Hamilton leads with 43

The good news for Cabrera is that neither Adam Dunn nor Edwin Encarnacion homered on Tuesday, so Cabrera is still on his own in second, one behind Josh Hamilton. The bad news is that he has gone four games homerless, his longest drought since Sept. 7-10 in Anaheim and Chicago. Cabrera hit a line drive to the left-field warning track, but into the glove of left fielder Alex Gordon.

Runs batted in: 133 (1st)

Again, nothing from Cabrera, but nothing either from Josh Hamilton, who remains nine back.

Up next: Cabrera is 7-for-19 with two home runs lifetime off Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, his opponent for Wednesday.