DETROIT — If the Detroit Tigers want to get back to where they were a month ago, all they have to do is follow the lead of Anibal Sanchez.
Sanchez, 30, has been everything the Tigers have not been in their 9-20 swoon.
First, Sanchez has been amazingly consistent, especially since coming off the disabled list after that blister he had on April 26 at Minnesota. He’s also been excellent, even before the DL stint.
Since coming off the DL, Sanchez is 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, allowing only 30 hits in 46 2/3 innings.
On Thursday, Sanchez did what no one else has been able to do — beat the Kansas City Royals, snapping their 10-game winning streak with a 2-1 victory.
"He’s been rock solid, actually, since he came off the DL," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He’s got so many weapons. He’s got so many ways to get hitters out. He’s been a little bit more efficient with his pitches, too. He’s getting deeper into games — 107 pitches today when he came out."
Sanchez allowed one run in the first inning when Billy Butler doubled home Nori Aoki, but after that, the hot-hitting Royals got nothing.
"After that inning, I don’t want any more runs, I just need to keep focusing on throwing strikes, throwing better pitch, make good pitch, because I just need to keep the game right there," Sanchez said.
Despite his two doubles, Butler echoed what Ausmus said about Sanchez.
"He’s so tough to hit because he’s got so many pitches," Butler said. "He changes speeds on everything and he’s got two completely different sliders. One of them looks like it is some kind of cutter, and then he’s got a really nasty hard slider."
The odd thing about Sanchez’s day was that in his seven innings, he did not record one strikeout for the first time in his career.
"That’s the rarity," Ausmus said. "But he has the ability to make hitters miss the barrel. They got a lot of balls off the end or off the hands. So he didn’t get the swing and misses but they also didn’t square up a ton of pitches."
Closer Joe Nathan said it isn’t just since Sanchez came off the DL that’s he’s been pitching this well.
"Over his career," Nathan said with a laugh. "This is old hat for him. It seems like every single time I watch him pitch, it’s amazing. He gets on stretches where he retires 12, 13, 14 guys straight. Even when things look like they can kind of get out of hand early, all of a sudden he’s rattling off 12 outs in a row.
"It’s very impressive to watch him go out and work."
Nathan is correct. Sanchez has not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his 12 starts this season. He’s given up three runs twice, two runs four times, one run four times and zero runs twice.
Yet Sanchez is just 4-2 to go along with that 2.33 ERA.
Drew Smyly is the next closest Tigers starter with a 3.48 ERA.
"I try to throw the ball for strikes, make some good pitch, especially in situations with runners in scoring position," Sanchez said. "I don’t do anything special. I do the same the last year."
Last season, Sanchez earned the AL ERA title with a 2.57 mark.
On days when Sanchez isn’t pitching, he gets to the ballpark early and goes through his workout routine and whatever else he needs to do to prepare for his next outing.
The quiet Sanchez participated in the Zubaz fun when things were going well, yet he never let that affect him, just like he has not let the team’s recent struggles affect him.
"(Thursday) I just come thinking that, all right, we need to win one," Sanchez said. "We need to win definitely, especially because they win, what, 10 in a row, something like that. It’s time for us, especially because they are in the same division. We need it bad.
"We need to start getting some wins and play different, play like we used to do earlier in the season. At some point, we’re going to do that."