Game 16: The conundrum with Anibal Sanchez
Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers tweaked his delivery in Spring Training, removing the hip turn, knowing it was going to be an adjustment for him. Pitchers don’t usually make major changes like that this deep into their careers without a rough transition.
They also made the change believing it’ll be better for him in the long run, eliminating extra movement while allowing him to better control the running game. Former pitching coach Jeff Jones brought up the idea last year, and Sanchez embraced it after his shoulder issue ended his 2015 season early.
He felt the difference immediately when he finally got to use it in a game last month during Spring Training, and he still feels healthy through all his pitches. Pitchingwise, however, it’s a struggle, none bigger than Saturday against the Indians.
“I’ve been doing work with my mechanics through Spring Training, through the rainout,” Sanchez said. “I don’t know. I feel sometimes good, and other times it’s no good. There’s no blame. I’m struggling locationwise. I’m playing against a big-league team that took advantage of all my mistakes. Especially when you’re around the zone with all your pitches and you don’t hit the corners or side or side, change the speed or something like that, I think they take advantage of that.”
His frustration is evident. But at this point, he has to see it through, trying to figure out what tweak can make it work.
“I’ll keep working. I’m not going to stop right now,” he said. “I can turn it to the other side. I can be as good as I was before. I cannot stop here. I need to continue to work. I need to continue to do my job. I need to continue to be on the mound every five days and put more and more effort there.”
He’s had varying levels of frustration with each outing this season. When he took scoreless outings into the sixth inning in Miami and Pittsburgh before two-run sixths knocked him out, he lamented his inefficient pitch counts and talked about breaking through the third trip through a lineup. His two outings since have seen opponents torment him from the first inning — 25 pitches last Sunday in Houston, then a 32-pitch first inning against the Indians Saturday.
All three first-inning hits came after Sanchez got ahead of hitters into two-strike counts. Yan Gomes’ bloop single came on a 1-2 offering. Jose Ramirez’s grounder through the middle followed an 0-2 count that he worked back to even.
“They had three runs on the board, and it’s not like they hit a ball hard,” Brad Ausmus said.
Still, both reflected a struggle to finish off hitters. Only one of Sanchez’s 32 first-inning pitches drew a swing and miss. For Sanchez, it’s about location.
“I’ve been doing work for like since Spring Training started, hard as I can,” he said. “I just want to be consistent in the strike zone. That’s always my conversation with you guys after every game, no matter if I feel good or bad. I just want to be consistent in the strike zone. Today was bad luck, like Brad says, but at the end, I have to be able to be on the mound for longer than today.”
It’s not like Mike Pelfrey and Francisco Rodriguez saying they’re embarrassed by their outings, but that’s not Sanchez’s style. At the same time, he’s clear he’s not the pitcher he wants to be, the pitcher he was a few years ago. He still believes he can get back towards that form as long as he’s healthy.
He doesn’t have to be dominant. But he needs to be consistent, not just for himself but for the Tigers rotation. The belief remains that the quieter delivery is the one that’s more likely to get him back there, even though the adjustment to it has him struggling so far.
“I just want to keep working,” he said. “I just want to do some adjustment for my next outing. I need to stop right now. I need to stop the whole bad history about location. I’m used to being a really good location guy. I’m not like that kind of pitcher last year and this year. It’s like something’s wrong. Something’s happened every outing. I just want to stop that. I just want to think positive for my next outing, keep working, keep preparing as hard as I can and do my best and do something for my next outing.”
He’ll get that outing, and more after that. He’s under contract this year and next. Moreover, the Tigers need him to be that consistent veteran in the middle of their rotation. As difficult as it is, if they believe it’ll make a difference, they have to put up with the struggle.