While Max Scherzer became the second Cy Young Award winner on the Detroit Tigers’ staff in 2013, it was Anibal Sanchez who finished with the AL’s best ERA.
After dealing with an ailing shoulder in spring training, the right-hander will seek to pick up where he left off Thursday while leading the Tigers to a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals, a team he’s recently dominated.
Scherzer joined Justin Verlander as AL Cy Young Award winners on Detroit, but Sanchez provided the Tigers with another formidable piece of their rotation in his first full season with the team. Like Scherzer and Verlander, Sanchez topped 200 strikeouts – matching his career high from 2011 with 202 – and posted a 2.57 ERA while going 14-8.
"Every year you have to make some goals," Sanchez told the Tigers’ official website. "For me, it’s getting to 200 innings, get 200 strikeouts, get my 33 starts a year. That’s my goal every single year: Control what I can control."
Sanchez finished with a career high for victories but is entering this season after dealing with inflammation in his throwing shoulder. He was slated to start Detroit’s final spring game Saturday in Washington, but the game was rained out.
He instead pitched a simulated game the next day in Detroit and was deemed ready to go.
That’s probably not what the Royals wanted to hear. Sanchez gave up three runs in 20 1-3 innings against Kansas City in 2013 and is 3-1 with a 0.92 ERA in his last four matchups.
The Royals (0-2) will try to end that dominance while avoiding their worst start since dropping their first four games in 2001. The Tigers (2-0) won their first four in 2012 and have a chance at another strong start after a pair of dramatic victories.
Alex Gonzalez’s ninth-inning single finished off a 4-3 comeback win in Monday’s opener, and Ian Kinsler helped his club pull out a 2-1 victory in 10 innings Wednesday.
Kinsler hit his first homer with Detroit in the fourth inning and that was the only run until new closer Joe Nathan blew his first save opportunity in the ninth. Nathan went 19 for 19 at Comerica Park while pitching for Minnesota and Texas.
Kinsler ended the game with a single and the Tigers also got two calls that were reversed in their favor on challenges, including one that ended Kansas City’s half of the 10th.
The Royals will turn to rookie Yordano Ventura to help avoid the sweep. The 22-year-old right-hander, whose fastball has been clocked at 100-plus miles per hour, went 0-1 with a 3.52 ERA in three starts last season.
Ventura was 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA in six spring training games and had 23 strikeouts to six walks in 23 1-3 innings.
"Detroit is a very good team, and to appear in the opening series is very exciting," Ventura told the Royals’ official website.
Kansas City’s Alex Gordon was one of the best performers against Sanchez in 2013, going 4 for 9. Only the Chicago White Sox’s Alejandro De Aza (4 for 8) had a better showing among players who faced him at least seven times.
Detroit hasn’t swept the Royals since taking all four meetings at home Sept. 24-27, 2012.