For Anibal, it's three up, but not three down

Tigers right-hander struggles to hold hitters in check third time through order

For Anibal, it's three up, but not three down

DETROIT -- The Tigers know about Anibal Sanchez's issues the third time through a lineup. They don't need their analytics department to tell them that. Sanchez is aware of it, too.

"We know that, and I think it's something we're trying to ease him along," acting manager Gene Lamont said after Wednesday's 8-5 loss to the Phillies. "And I'm sure he's getting frustrated. You can tell that."

It's out there for everyone to see, and for Sanchez to work on his game to improve, which he has. It's what makes his downfall Wednesday against the Phillies that much tougher to take.

Odubel Herrera and Peter Bourjos were the bookends in Philadelphia's batting order, and they were 1-for-4 with a single combined the first two times through the lineup. They bookended the third trip with home runs -- Herrera with a three-run homer in the fourth, Bourjos with a leadoff drive in the seventh inning for a crucial add-on run.

Bourjos on his home run

Sanchez didn't allow a hit in between, only a walk that catcher James McCann erased. By comparison, Sanchez gave up four hits his first time through the lineup. But the home runs were still too costly, and still added to the narrative about Sanchez struggling to pitch deep into games.

"I started the game strong, put the ball down. Same story," a clearly frustrated Sanchez said. "One inning. One pitch. Two pitches. I don't know."

He's equally puzzled about a solution, because he has tried so much already.

Sanchez has given up 11 home runs this season after allowing a league-high-tying 29 homers last season. Six of those 11 homers have come in that third trip through the order, five of them in the sixth inning or later.

"I need to keep working," he said. "Sooner or later, everything's going to turn. I don't know when. I don't know what I have to do. But I want to find out what I have to do to be successful."

The damage Herrera's homer produced wasn't all Sanchez's doing. Andres Blanco reached on a Jose Iglesias error, then Steven Moya's error in left on Tyler Goeddel's single allowed Blanco to take third, putting runners at the corners for Herrera to feast on a hanging 2-1 slider and enthusiastically flip his bat.

"He knows they're unearned," Lamont said of the run, "but he knows he threw a pitch that Herrera hit for a home run, that we could've gotten out of that inning."

The Bourjos home run was a little more frustrating. Bourjos hadn't homered since last September, and he hadn't posted an extra-base hit in two weeks. He was going to be Sanchez's last hitter regardless, with Herrera on deck. But after putting Bourjos in an 0-2 hole, Sanchez put the sinker in a spot where Bourjos could turn.

"He had some real good innings and looked like he got in a groove, and then all of a sudden, he'd hang a pitch," Lamont said. "But we know how good of stuff he has. He just needs to put it together. And I think for his confidence, I think he needs to put seven, eight good innings together. Right now, he just hasn't been able to do that."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.