The journey back to the win column as a starting pitcher for Anibal Sanchez included a demotion to Triple-A Toledo, after struggling in a relief role earlier in the season.
Since returning to the Detroit Tigers’ rotation in mid-June, the veteran right-hander's confidence has steadily grown.
In turn, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said his confidence in Sanchez has increased, which is why he stuck with his starter in the sixth inning, even after Sanchez had given up two runs.
Sanchez struck out two of the final three batters he faced. He allowed two runs on five hits with no walks over six innings. He struck out a season-high eight batters.
The Tigers beat the San Francisco Giants, 6-2, on Thursday at Comerica Park, and Sanchez earned his first major league win since Aug. 23, 2016 – a span of 21 appearances.
“The fastball on the corners, it helped me to throw my slow change-up,” Sanchez said. “Those guys, they swing a lot and they make a lot of contact on the pitches you leave in the strike zone.”
Sanchez allowed two runs in the sixth, but did strike out two of the final three batters he faced. He gave up a leadoff walk to Denard Span, then a triple to right to Joe Panik. Hunter Pence grounded out to second, which allowed Panik to score.
Sanchez struggled in 11 relief appearances with the Tigers before accepting a demotion to Triple-A Toledo in late May.
“Right now I’m in a really good position in the rotation,” Sanchez said. “I want to do a good job any time that I throw the ball. That’s what I want. I want to help the team.”
Sanchez has given the Tigers (38-46) three consecutive quality starts. He has allowed eight earned runs on 16 hits and four walks in four starts since his return. He has 22 strikeouts over 23 1/3 innings in that span.
“I thought he was outstanding, the mix of pitches and the command of his pitches,” Ausmus said. “This is three excellent (outings) in a row.
“He’s been impressive since he decided to go down and reset and become a starter again.”
Sanchez has had trouble in the past the third time through the order. So there was significance in allowing him to minimize the damage in the sixth inning.
“I would think this is extremely gratifying for him and it should be because he’s made a 180 turnaround,” Ausmus said. “Hopefully he continues to have the success that he’s having.
“He’s showing he’s a big league starter again.”
Ausmus acknowledged it’s a bit of surprise.
“With all the numbers that try to predict everything, sometimes you just can’t predict,” Ausmus said.
Sanchez was able to strike out one Brandon Crawford with a 71 m.p.h slow change-up and then got the next hitter, Austin Slater, to strike out swinging at a 93 m.p.h. fastball.
“I thought his change-up was really good,” Ausmus said. “His change-up is normally like 82ish, his regular change-up. If you overuse that 70-miles-an-hour (pitch), the hitters will make the adjustment. So you have to pick your spots and pick your hitters. I thought his regular change-up was really good.”
Sanchez said his goal is consistently mixing up pitches like he did in that inning and keep his control.
“I’m able to do that when I’m healthy and I don’t have any restriction with any part of my body,” Sanchez said.
Alex Presley, playing in his first game since going on the disabled list with a concussion, went 2-for-3 with a walk, two RBIs and a run scored for the Tigers.
Nick Castellanos finished 2-for-3 with a RBI and a run scored. Justin Upton was 1-for-3 with a walk, two runs scored and an RBI.
Upton drew a two-out walk in the first inning, stole second and scored on an RBI single by Miguel Cabrera, who was the team’s designated hitter.
The Tigers added three runs in the second and another in the third.
Castellanos led off the second with a triple and scored on an RBI single by Presley.
Dixon Machado added a two-run home run, his first career home run in the majors.
Upton started the third with a double and scored on a two-out single to right by Presley.
Castellanos added an RBI single in the eighth to bring home J.D. Martinez.
The Tigers scored five runs on six hits over 6 2/3 innings off Giants right-handed pitcher Chris Stratton.
Righty Johnny Cueto was scheduled to start for the Giants, but was a scratched late due to an inner ear infection.