Sanchez's struggles with homers continue

Sanchez's struggles with homers continue

DETROIT -- Anibal Sanchez's earned-run average dropped from 9.64 to 1.93 on Wednesday without him throwing a pitch. A scoring change from last week, ruled on appeal by Major League Baseball, turned four of five runs into unearned tallies.

A day later, Sanchez pitched. The resulting damage in Thursday's 11-5 loss to the Twins sent Sanchez's ERA back up to 10.50. If not for the scoring change, it would be 16.50.

It's a wild ride, and it makes Sanchez's stellar finish to Spring Training seem like the distant past rather than just two weeks ago. But since Sanchez came north, his results have gone south.

"It's just a couple outings," manager Brad Ausmus said. "But he's got to stay away from the home run ball. That's kind of been the issue for him the last couple years, and it's been the issue for him here in the early going. We've got to stay away from the home run ball."

But as Sanchez points out, it's also a much different role than he had in Spring Training. And as he discussed the transition to bullpen, he sounded like a pitcher struggling to find a routine to be ready.

"Right now it's difficult, the way that I pitch right now and the way that I finish in Spring Training," Sanchez said. "The way that I worked out in Spring Training, my last four outings were really good. I was working every single day. I had bullpen days and I had pitching days. So here, there's not the time to work in the bullpen or do your programs. You have to be ready every single day."

There's some anticipation Sanchez can use. As a long reliever, he's unlikely to be needed on days Justin Verlander starts, given how consistently Verlander pitches deep into games. But with three young starters and Jordan Zimmermann working back from an injury-plagued 2016 season, the call could come in any of the other four days. With Zimmermann struggling to command pitches in the cold, Sanchez got the call Thursday.

Sanchez had some of the same command woes as Zimmermann. Unlike Zimmermann, who walked five of his last 10 batters, Sanchez put pitches in the zone. His second pitch was a 90 mph fastball that Max Kepler belted up the right-field seats for a three-run homer. He had a similar pitch later that Miguel Sano sent into the second row of center-field shrubs, an estimated 440-foot homer by Statcast™.

Statcast: Sano's 440-ft. homer

Both pitches were right over the plate.

"I just tried to attack in the zone," Sanchez said. "The balls missed and those guys, they swing a lot and they're pretty good hitters."

Sanchez allowed 30 home runs last year, and 29 in 2015. He has allowed three in as many appearances this season. His struggles Thursday prompted another long reliever call-up, with William Cuevas purchased from Triple-A Toledo and promising prospect Joe Jimenez sent down.

Sanchez will get a chance to find a routine that works. But with the Tigers bullpen already in a bind, they can't afford many outings like Thursday.

"Regardless of what role you're in, just get outs," Ausmus said of his relievers. "That's what their job is. To come in and get outs. It's not always going to work. It wasn't, obviously, a good day for Sanchie, but it doesn't change the premise of regardless when you come in, you're there to get outs."

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