All of the fears surrounding Anibal Sanchez -- and the Detroit Tigers' starting rotation, by extension -- came to light in his last start. Sanchez was nickeled and dimed in a three-run first inning against the Cleveland Indians, but was battered in a five-run third, allowing five hits before he was mercifully lifted from the game by manager Brad Ausmus.
Sanchez's final line was ugly, but more concerning is the realization that a healthy Sanchez hasn't been much better than the presumably injured pitcher that gave the Tigers 157 replacement level innings in 2015. He has allowed four runs in his past three starts (a pace similar to 2015) and has yet to finish the sixth inning in any of his four outings this season. While his strikeout rate looks healthy on a per-inning basis, he is only fanning 19.8 percent of the batters he faces, a below average rate. Add in the fact that half of his strikeouts came against the swing-happy Houston Astros, and you see why there is cause for concern.
The worst part? There isn't really a contingency plan for an ineffective Sanchez. The Tigers were banking on a bounce-back season from him in 2016, but have instead received a 12.27 ERA in his past two starts, both losses. Replacing someone like Mike Pelfrey is easy if he continues to struggle, but Sanchez is here for the long haul.
Oakland Athletics (11-11) at Detroit Tigers (10-10)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Athletics Nation
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV (Free Game of the Day), Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Chris Bassitt (0-1, 4.44 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-2, 7.00 ERA)
Statistically speaking, there might not be a more generic pitcher in baseball than Chris Bassitt. Acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade prior to the 2015 season, Bassitt worked 86 innings for the A's last year. He struck out 17.7 percent of batters and walked 8.3 percent, both slightly below average rates. He did a good job of limiting home runs, but his batted ball profile was as close to the league average as one can get.
It came as quite the surprise, then, when I discovered that Bassitt throws 95 miles per hour. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.6 miles per hour last season according to Brooks Baseball, with a peak velocity of 98 miles per hour. He induced swings and misses at a 9.6 percent clip, or on a healthy 19.7 percent of swings.
It may just be coincidence at this point, but Bassitt has relied on that fastball a bit more often this season, throwing it over 60 percent of the time (compared to 55 percent in 2015). He throws a two-seamer more often than the four-seamer, which has helped him induce a ground ball rate above 50 percent in his first four starts. Bassitt has also allowed on his curveball more often, especially as his out pitch with two strikes. Opponents are seeing less of his slider and changeup, though the latter is occasionally featured early in the count against lefties.
Hitter to fear: Coco Crisp (.421/.400/.789 in 20 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jed Lowrie (.105/.190/.105 in 21 plate appearances)
Sanchez has posted healthy numbers against the A's in his career, allowing a 3.83 ERA in six starts. A's hitters have batted a meager .203/.274/.331 with three home runs in 164 plate appearances against him, but have done enough to hand him a 1-2 record.
The current A's roster has fared better, hitting .263/.302/.483, but most of their success has come in very small samples. Of the five hitters that have faced Sanchez more than 10 times, only Coco Crisp is hitting better than .250. Three of those players are under the Mendoza line, though two of Josh Reddick's three hits are home runs. Josh Phegley and Stephen Vogt have fared well in their 10 plate appearances, but odds are only one of them will be in the lineup.
If Sanchez is going to get back on track, this game seems like a prime opportunity. These A's are not the same patient offense that they were a few years ago, ranking dead last in the American League with a 6.0 percent walk rate. They sit in the middle of the pack with 23 home runs hit, but their .141 ISO ranks fourth-lowest in the league, and they are 10th in runs scored. There are some dangerous spots to be found in this lineup, but they won't collectively batter him like Cleveland did.
Sanchez works six full innings for the first time this season and the Tigers take the series.
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