Anibal collects K's, much-needed confidence

Veteran looks like Sanchez of old, with swing-and-miss stuff leading to 10 strikeouts

Anibal collects K's, much-needed confidence

DETROIT -- Sometimes this year, the only way Anibal Sanchez seemed likely to get another ovation at Comerica Park would be on his way off the Tigers. So a reception like the one he received Tuesday felt surreal, if not for the pitching that preceded it.

As Sanchez walked off the mound in the seventh inning, much of the crowd of 32,030 rose to its feet and cheered him -- not his exit, but him. It was mainly for his six-plus innings with one run allowed at that point, but there was also some appreciation for the work he had to put in to get there.

"I think they appreciate the fact that he's not happy with how things have gone, and that tonight was a good night for him," manager Brad Ausmus said.

Sanchez ended up with another loss, this one a 6-2 defeat to the Twins that dropped his record to 5-11. He took more than a quality start as a consolation. With 10 strikeouts over six-plus innings, he received a desperately needed confidence boost.

"Always the fans here are really good," Sanchez said. "They support us as a team. They're always there for us, and sometimes they deserve more than what we can do, especially myself.

"I'm turning around everything. I just want to continue to throw the ball like that the rest of the year and bring some wins. Today everything was coming out good, and I feel good for that."

Tuesday's form was closer to the Sanchez the Tigers hoped would help stabilize their rotation when the season began. He allowed seven hits over six innings but kept the ball in the park. He mixed pitches, changed eye level and attacked hitters, throwing 69 of 100 pitches for strikes -- including first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters.

More encouraging, he induced the swings and misses that made him an effective pitcher in the past. He hit double digits in strikeouts for the first time since fanning 11 Astros on May 24, 2015, and for just the third time since his 202-strikeout season of 2013.

"That's a big outing," catcher James McCann said. "I really think he can build off of it. That would obviously be great for him, but [also] great for the team."

It's not just the number of strikeouts, but how he got them. He induced 15 swings and misses, tying a season high. Seven came off his fastball, which sat at 92 mph but topped out at 93 according to MLB Gameday.

"I think it was getting on guys quite a bit," McCann said. "I think his arm action was very good and he was just able to command it, and that really set up his offspeed stuff."

The Twins rank 12th in the American League in batting average and third in strikeouts. Yet at Sanchez's low point, he was struggling against all sorts. This was a step in the right direction. While Ausmus didn't say Sanchez would start the next turn through the rotation, Tuesday's outing gives the manager some leeway to give Daniel Norris another rehab outing if he wants.

If Sanchez stays on turn, he'd face the White Sox on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field. Unless he hears otherwise, Sanchez said, he plans on pitching in five days.

"I just want to continue to work," he said. "I just want to keep everything that I did today, put it into my next bullpen, put it into my next game and be able to throw the best pitch."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for 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.