Anibal unable to avoid early trouble vs. Astros

Tigers righty allows five runs over first four innings in finale loss

Anibal unable to avoid early trouble vs. Astros

HOUSTON -- The Tigers' pitching staff had been getting away with some rocky early innings, but Anibal Sanchez fell victim to his slow start in Houston during Detroit's 5-4 loss Sunday.

And in many ways, it was surprising the longtime veteran was the hurler who succumbed to that fate, as he allowed five runs in the first four innings while throwing 110 pitches in five laborious frames.

After all, Sanchez had arguably been the team's most consistent pitcher through two turns of the rotation. Plus, his struggles in Minute Maid Park were the inverse of the minor issues that plagued him against Miami and Pittsburgh.

Sanchez blanked both teams for the first five innings, then allowed two runs in the sixth of both outings. He figured to reverse the Tigers' recent issues, as they've allowed first-inning runs in four of the last five games.

Instead, the Astros teed off early. Jose Altuve ripped an opposite-field leadoff homer in the first as Sanchez struggled to keep the ball down in the zone. The righty was so erratic that he even brought in a run later in the frame on a wild pitch.

"It was similar in the first inning with a lot of fastballs like we saw from [Justin] Verlander yesterday and then had to adjust," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Some of the damage was done obviously at that point."

George Springer added a solo shot in the third, and Altuve struck again in the fourth for a two-run single.

Altuve's two-run single

"It was difficult today, and I think three good contacts, two good homers and one bringing guys in, it's really tough," Sanchez said.

One of the runs on Altuve's single was unearned because of a sloppy throw by Miguel Cabrera that allowed Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Marisnick to move up a base.

It was emblematic of the Tigers' relative woes in Houston. Sloppy baserunning dominated Friday and Saturday, while defense doomed Detroit on Sunday. That accounted for the first series loss this season, but Sanchez said he can live with "effort" mistakes behind him like Cabrera's.

"He threw because he saw the chance to get an out," Sanchez said. "He didn't throw just to play around. He thinks if he makes a good throw, he had Gonzalez off the base. Even [Justin] Upton had the ball and a chance to get him at third. Everything is changed by results."

Added Ausmus: "We did a nice job both games coming back. Getting ourselves back in the game from an offensive standpoint, but I think we can play cleaner games."

But it was Sanchez who still allowed the baserunners and made for a second straight day that Detroit faced a hefty early deficit. The reviews on his new, streamlined windup are mixed through three starts, and his focus now is on lowering the pitch counts going forward.

"The good thing is I feel really good, I feel healthy and no problems at all with my body," he said. "I need to continue working. Even the first two [starts], even when I threw good games, it was a lot of pitches.

"It's something I need to work on, because I don't want to throw 100, 105, 110 pitches in five innings. If I have that pitch count, it gets complicated, throwing too many pitches [per] inning and I'm getting tired sooner in the game."

A silver lining, then, since Sanchez still managed to strike out his last two batters he faced.

"I didn't feel fatigued at that point," the 11-year veteran said. "That's a good team against me. If I was pitching in the seventh or eighth at that pitch count, maybe I would be [tired] but I still felt strong."

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.