Tigers closer unable to finish off Anibal Sanchez's gem

OAKLAND, CALIF. (DETROIT FREE PRESS) Anibal Sanchez said he felt fine when Brad Ausmus pulled him in favor of Joe Nathan in the ninth inning Wednesday night at O.co Coliseum as the Detroit Tigers held a 1-0 lead with one out and a runner on first.

Sanchez also said it he thought it was a good move, even though Nathan gave up a three-run, walk-off homer as the A's beat the Tigers, 3-1, and even though Sanchez had given up no runs and only three hits in 81⁄3 innings.

He acknowledged the decision looked bad because of the loss. He also said at that point, it's a good idea to bring in a fresh closer.

"My pitch count was high (a season-high 111)," he said. "(Ausmus) was probably a little concerned. It was my third game after being on the DL."

If Sanchez sounded like he was contradicting himself, well, he wasn't. He surely felt fine. And his pitch count was high. And a closer should be able to come in and finish a game with a runner on second and one out.

Nathan couldn't. It wasn't the first time this season.

His performance so far this season has been somewhat uneven, at least measured against his own stellar standards. Last year, he blew three saves — he converted 43 of 46 chances. This year, he's already blown four.

Last year, he gave up two home runs. This season, he's given up four.

Nathan said he wished the team could've finished the win after Sanchez had thrown the best outing by a Tigers starter all year. What he didn't do was take responsibility for giving up the home run to Josh Donaldson, who bombed a first-pitch slider into left-field seats.

He blamed Nick Castellanos. Not by name, but by implying that when Castellanos' misplayed a line-drive from John Jaso, it hindered his chances of saving the game.

Castellanos, for his part, said the ball was catchable and that it hit his glove. When he didn't, the ball scooted into the outfield. Coco Crisp took third. Jaso was safe at first. Donaldson stepped to the plate with one out and runners at the corners.

A lot different, said Nathan, than two outs and a runner at second.


But also true that the slider he threw to Donaldson didn't snap down far enough and the A's third baseman blasted it.

Nathan said the misplay at third forced him to challenge Donaldson in a way he didn't want to, one of the A's best hitters.

"The big out there was getting Jaso," Nathan said. "You get him and it changes everything, it gives me a chance to play with (Donaldson) a little bit."

Nathan said it put him in a tough spot, and repeated the line several times during his post-game interview. His manager agreed.

"If Nick catches that ball, maybe it's a different inning," said Ausmus.

If might have been a different inning, too, had Ausmus left Sanchez in to pitch to Jaso and Donaldson. Or it might not have.

Whatever chance he had of completing the game disappeared when he took eight pitches to get pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo to ground out to second.

Had he gotten the leadoff man more efficiently to begin the ninth then Ausmus might have given him a chance after the double to Crisp.

"That was a slider away," Sanchez said of the ball Crisp hit. "I left it up a little."

Crisp ripped the ball hard down the opposite-field line. Ausmus said whether Crisp had blooped a single or smacked a double Sanchez's night would've been done.

But what a night it was. Lost in the gloom of the ninth-inning collapse was a dominant performance for Sanchez, who used four pitches, mixed speeds and moved his fastball from one side of the plate to the other.

"Sanchie was outstanding," said Ausmus. "He said he felt good."

So good he wanted to give him a chance to close out the game in the ninth — the Tigers took the lead on a Torii Hunter homer in the fourth inning.

"(Sanchez) was right at 100 pitches. He had some room with his pitch count," said Ausmus. "But that one at-bat (Callapso) was a long at-bat. That kind of hurt his chances."

Since returning from the disabled list, Sanchez has given up four runs in 20 innings over three starts.

"I tried to put the ball down," he said of his approach against the A's. "I feel good."

The Tigers finally got the outing from a starter it needed. It just didn't get one from its closer.


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