Anibal's start shows Tigers' need for depth

Anibal's start shows Tigers' need for depth

TORONTO -- Brad Ausmus was direct on Saturday when asked why Anibal Sanchez was the choice to start in injured Jordan Zimmermann's place this weekend. The options, the Tigers' manager said, were limited.

As the Tigers head into the All-Star break, they're hoping to have Zimmermann and Daniel Norris back from the disabled list shortly. But even if Sanchez doesn't have to make another turn next weekend, Sunday's 6-1 loss to Toronto made Detroit's situation clear: While the Tigers have hope that their season can turn with better outings from their rotation, their path to that improvement is precarious without depth.

"Starting pitching needs to be better overall," Ausmus said. "If we can get some of these guys back, like Zimmermann and Norris, get some health in the starting rotation, that obviously would be a big boost. We don't expect them to miss much time going into the second half, but we still have to get them back on the mound before we know exactly who we have in the rotation."

What the Tigers got out of Sanchez on Sunday was what they suspected, some flashes of deceptiveness amidst two big hits. He struggled with command, yet he garnered a dozen swings and misses. Ten came on fastballs that topped out at 93 mph, the velocity Sanchez has been reaching in relief.

"That's something I liked today," Sanchez said of the whiffs.

Sanchez not only crossed up hitters, he had his catcher, James McCann, guessing on location at times. His first seven hits allowed were singles, giving him opportunities to pitch his way out of it.

"We were effectively wild," McCann said.

Then Josh Donaldson came up in the fourth inning and pounced on an 0-1 fastball for a three-run homer.

"Just trying to expand the zone off the plate away," McCann said, "and just left it middle."

Sanchez threw 92 pitches over four innings, allowing five runs on eight hits. He struck out six and walked two.

"He left some pitches up," Ausmus said. "He's a guy who a few years ago could pitch up and get swings and misses and foul balls and pop flies. Now some of those balls are leaving the yard, so he's going to have to rely more on command and location than the raw stuff."

That's the conundrum. Sanchez has to be more precise, and he knows it, but he can't seem to do so. If he can, he believes he'll be effective again. His summary of his challenge sounds like the mantra of a real estate agent.

"Location, location, location," Sanchez said. "That's the problem."

Unless the Tigers can keep their rotation healthy down the stretch, Sanchez likely will continue to get starts rather than pitch in shorter bursts from the bullpen. While Matt Boyd showed improvements in his fill-in start Saturday, he's a younger arm and is still learning. Sanchez is on the other side of his career, now adapting.

After spending the first half struggling to adapt, Sanchez is ready for a break.

"I just want to clear my mind," he said.

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.