DETROIT -- Anibal Sanchez began spring training with a right triceps inflammation and had to sit out for a large part of March, which was compounded by bronchitis. Then, new pitching coach Rich Dubee had Sanchez make a change to his windup. Tuesday was a sign of better things, but Sanchez admitted he hasn't yet had a chance to settle into a routine.
"I think I'm in the process of getting used to (pitching again)," Sanchez said after the game. "I rested for five months, (including) the offseason, and I didn't throw at all, so now four months straight throwing, I think my arm is (still) feeling weak and I gotta keep working on my speed and my velocity and my fastball. Everything is coming (along) right now."
Sanchez didn't pitch in a spring game until March 21, but it was a stellar prelude. He tossed four scoreless, hitless innings, walking just one batter. Because of a double play, he faced the minimum. During his regular season debut, Sanchez allowed just two runs across five innings, but he walked three. The command wasn't quite there, but that wasn't surprising after the first game of the year.
One wouldn't expect Sanchez's command to morph into midseason form for start No. 2. The change in his windup, while not extreme, is rather noticeable. In the past, Sanchez has practically faced second base on one leg, and it left him vulnerable. Now, that turn is only slight, allowing Sanchez to remain focused on the strike zone.
But that change has been drastic, for Sanchez. In addition to thinking about baserunners and other aspects of the game, he now has to keep the windup adjustment in the back of his mind. At a time when he's still working on strengthening his mechanics after a shortened spring, the adjustment is just another distraction.
"That's, I'm trying to get used to (it)," Sanchez said. "Sometimes when I feel comfortable, late in the game, I think my body tries to do that (old habit again) and I need to stop that. It's a lot of thinking when I'm on the mound, but the result is good and I need to keep working. We've got a long season."
On the upside, Sanchez was feeling increasingly comfortable with himself as Tuesday's game progressed. That much was evident by the 10 consecutive batters he retired, and until Sanchez crossed the 100-pitch mark, he was cruising. Sanchez has a harder ceiling than some of his other starting teammates, but 100 pitches is a lot for any pitcher.
Every pitcher handles that mark differently. Some can push past it. But right now, even if he could stay in longer it might not be wise to. In talking about opposing baserunners, Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus acknowledged that the pitching staff has been instructed to pay more attention to holding runners. So, in addition to his mechanics and an altered windup, Sanchez is dividing his concentration further.
Holding baserunners has, historically, not been a strength for Sanchez. He acknowledged that, in order to pay attention to his windup and work on his command mid-game, he's already felt areas where he's had to slow it down even further. That was the case when he got behind in the count on Tuesday.
Sanchez's offspeed pitches gave him fits at times, but look for that to change as the season progresses. His pitch count ceiling may not change, or it might. But once Sanchez gets comfortable with the adjustments he's had to make, he'll be one of the better pitchers in the league again.
"He did a good job using all his pitches," Ausmus said. "Obviously did a good job against the Pirates hitters. I think at times he had trouble commanding his breaking ball, especially his cutter, slider. He was trying to get them to chase down and away and he bounced quite a few.
"But overall he did an excellent job. His movement, when he's throwing strikes, for the most part and his ball's moving in the zone, he's tough on righties and lefties."