Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez has been sidelined since suffering a strained pectoralis against the Toronto Blue Jays August 8. On August 24, Sanchez suffered a major setback in his rehab, a bullpen session ending early due to the tearing of scar tissue, causing severe pain. At the time, Sanchez could not lift his arm and compared the pain to having 'a needle inside.' Worse, Sanchez stated he believed his season was over.
A visit to Dr. James Andrews confirmed there was no structural damage, giving the Tigers hope Sanchez could still return sometime in September. Two weeks remain in the season, and it seems Sanchez's rehab is progressing to the point where he may be in the team's post season plans.
Sanchez participated in long-toss sessions Saturday and Sunday, and is expected to throw off a mound on Monday. The chances of Sanchez returning sometime before the end of the regular season are rising significantly, barring another setback.
At the time of his injury, Sanchez had an 8-5 record, 3.45 ERA, 2.71 FIP and a rotation low 1.096 WHIP in 125 innings. His return would be a quite large piece of the playoff puzzle. But how would Sanchez be best used?
It will have been close to two months since Sanchez last pitched in a major league game. The minor league season has ended, meaning there is no opportunity for Sanchez to get stretched out, capable of throwing five, six or more innings. He can participate in simulated games, but it just isn't the same.
One option would be having Sanchez pitch out of the bullpen when he returns. One of the rotation members would be moving to the bullpen for the post season, as there is no need for five starters in the playoffs. Before Sanchez's injury, the likely candidate to move to the bullpen was Justin Verlander, who has had the worst overall season of the Tigers' starting pitchers.
If Sanchez recovers in time for post season play, the Tigers have a big decision to make. If Sanchez is healthy, you insert him back into the rotation despite the lack of rehab innings, or does he become a playoff relief pitcher?
Monday's bullpen session will go a long way toward determining the Tigers' next move.