DETROIT -- Anibal Sanchez's outing wasn't the only thing to go wrong in Sunday's messy loss, but it was the key one. As lights out as he was in the second through the fifth innings, Sanchez's sixth inning implosion was what stood out above the rest. And he had help getting there, both from the bench and on the field.
Neither pitch that Sanchez threw to both hitters who homered was bad. In fact, it's a fluke either batter hit them out of the park. Facing Preston Tucker, a lefty rookie with no home runs until the Houston Astros faced the Detroit Tigers, was a batter that Sanchez should have been able to deal with easily. And in fairness, the numbers support Sanchez against a left-handed batter. But the last home run not only ended Sanchez's day, it turned a 7-4 lead into a 7-7 tie, changing the outcome of the game.
At the top of the sixth, Sanchez's first home run given up was so low it qualified for a golf outing. The second was so far inside that it fell into Miguel Cabrera territory. But Sanchez was also at 110 pitches and on the tail end of a weird outing. The three-run home run that tied the game therefore begged the obvious question. Did Tigers manager Brad Ausmus ever consider taking Sanchez out before facing Tucker?
"No," Ausmus chuckled. "No, I didn't. He's actually better against lefties than he is against righties. This is where we are in this day and age is, if it doesn't work then it was the wrong move. If it does work, it was the right move. Quite frankly, I didn't. Sanchie against lefties with his changeup is very effective."
It's not just Sunday's outing that's the most recent concern, or that Sanchez has been struggling. It's the number of home runs he's giving up. At about a third of the way into the season, Sanchez has given up 10 home runs, half of what he allowed when he gave up a career-high 20 in 2012.
Sanchez's home runs aren't just puzzling, they're a concern, and they have been for longer than a couple of starts. Sanchez struck out 11 batters on Sunday and he was sharp after the first inning, but the signs that Sanchez is struggling in several aspects of his pitching haven't changed, and that's the problem.
"Other than the results, no, not really," Ausmus said. "I can't say that there's a ton different. His stuff is electric at times, I think as his strikeouts indicate. Then he gets some balls up and they land in the seats, so other than the results I can't put my finger on one particular thing other than the pitches they are hitting are generally up."
The Tigers can't afford for Sanchez to continue along his current track record, but they also can't keep giving him the rope with which to hang himself by. Blown leads are preventable if a starter is pulled before the game gets out of hand. Sanchez should have been pulled before he faced Tucker, but he wasn't and it hurt the team.
"I don't know if it's the most disappointing loss," Ausmus said. "This one bothered me, I thought we were a little sloppy and as a manager I'm partially to blame for that. But it disturbs me when we score eight runs and we lose. We shouldn't be losing with eight runs scored, simple as that. So in that sense it bothers me a little bit more."
Sunday's loss was a combination of poor defense, sloppy play, and mismanagement. Not all of the blame lies with Ausmus, but Sanchez's track record this year should be warranting more caution over four positive innings between two disasters. If the Tigers are going to contend this year it's going to take more than belief they're a good team. And fixing Sanchez is where the Tigers need to start.