Sanchez struggles to explain homers

Righty has allowed league-high 28 blasts

Sanchez struggles to explain homers

DETROIT -- Just three Tigers pitchers have allowed 30 home runs in a season since the team moved from cozy Tiger Stadium to spacious Comerica Park. Unless Anibal Sanchez has a stingy home stretch, he'll become the fourth.

After three Royals homers in a 6-1 Tigers loss Tuesday, Sanchez is at a loss for ways to slow the barrage of big fly balls, which now has him tied for the Major League lead with 28.

"I don't know," Sanchez said. "I don't know what I can say about it. I don't know what happened. I work hard between starts. I'm prepared, especially when I face a team that I know the players. I don't know."

He has pored over video trying to look for ways he might be tipping pitches, as has pitching coach Jeff Jones. He has tried to change pitch sequences to become less predictable. He has worked with catchers James McCann and Alex Avila on game plans. For much of the year, he has watched home runs send his game plan flying out of the park with them.

"If I'm tipping, they're missing early in the game," Sanchez said. "And then late in the game, there's contact. Or if they hit it early in the game, late in the game there's no contact."

When asked what else he can do at this point, he had to smile.

"I want to try to invent another pitch, probably down in the dirt, a pitch they can't hit," Sanchez said.

Sanchez shares the big league lead for homers allowed with Minnesota's Phil Hughes. While Hughes has allowed his 28 homers over 172 hits as part of a .293 average allowed, Sanchez has given up his 28 out of 149 total hits. Opponents are batting .251 off Sanchez, the lowest average of any pitcher this season with at least 25 home runs allowed.

It's not one particular pitch, either. He entered Tuesday with opponents slugging over .430 on all of his pitches except his curveball, according to STATS. The regulars in the Royals' lineup were batting just .172 (16-for-93) and slugging just .237 off Sanchez's offspeed pitches since 2013, according to MLB Network research.

Hosmer's two-run blast

On Tuesday, the Royals hit three homers off three different pitches. Only the first was off a fastball, and Eric Hosmer hit that first-inning shot on a line drive over the left-field fence. It was Hosmer's first home run off Sanchez in 33 career plate appearances.

Lorenzo Cain had just four singles off Sanchez in 23 career meetings, but he was on everything Sanchez threw Tuesday. He fell behind on breaking pitches before sending a fastball through the middle for a first-inning single, then hit the changeup for a double in the third. When Sanchez tried to escape a 3-1 count with a slider that hung over the plate, Cain pummeled it.

Cain's solo blast

Three batters later, Sanchez had a 3-0 count on Mike Moustakas before throwing a full-count breaking ball. That, too, dropped in the zone, and Moustakas sent it out to right-center.

"It's not like we were sitting there throwing heaters and saying, 'Here you go, tee off,'" McCann said. "I really don't have an answer. All I know is that when he leaves a pitch up in the zone, they take advantage of it."

It's the fourth time Sanchez has given up three homers in a game this season. He had never given up more than 20 homers in a season until this year.

Barring a dramatic change, he'll reach 30, and will reach a short list of Tigers pitchers since 2000 that includes Mike Maroth (twice), Hideo Nomo and Nate Robertson.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.