It's no secret that Anibal Sanchez has struggled against batters later in the game. Opponents entered Monday's game hitting a cool .269/.424/.462 in their third appearance against Sanchez so far this year, which continues the trend from last year (he allowed an .853 OPS to batters the third time through). His seventh-inning ERA was 7.62 in 2015.
Brad Ausmus should have known this as much as anyone, but he left Sanchez pitch into the seventh against the Nationals on Monday anyway.
What makes this even worse is that Daniel Murphy teed off on a pitch that Sanchez grooved an inning earlier to cut Detroit's lead to 4-3. Sanchez could have escaped the game with a bare-bones quality start. His spot was due up to lead off the top of the seventh, and the Tigers had a red-hot Victor Martinez ready to pinch-hit in search of insurance runs. The bullpen contained a relatively fresh Alex Wilson and a (forgotten?) fresh Francisco Rodriguez, so certainly they were ready for the challenge.
But Ausmus mismanaged everything.
First, his decision to leave Sanchez in the game killed the potential for any opportunity in the top of the seventh. Stephen Strasburg was dealing anyways, but he wasn't untouchable all game: the first guy he faced in the eighth walked on four pitches. On top of that, Martinez was available and went unused at the proper time.
Furthermore, it left the Tigers in the less-than-desirable position of having Sanchez protect a one-run lead in the seventh. Predictably enough, he was unable to do the job. There's really no excuse for leaving him in, especially after Ausmus saw Sanchez give up two absolutely scorched balls and decided against pulling him.
In the one sense, he was unlucky: Danny Espinosa snuck a ground ball past Ian Kinsler for a single, and the Strasburg bunt error was the definition of bad luck. On the other hand, Sanchez and the Tigers were really lucky in that inning: Michael Taylor's single was murdered, and Espinosa hit a pitch about 550 feet that went foul. Kyle Ryan was lucky, too, since Ben Revere had a hard-hit ball that was caught for out number one.
Wilson, the reliever who probably should have started the seventh, ended the threat. Unfortunately, that was not the end of questionable decision-making from the Tigers' manager. He brought in Martinez to pinch-hit for James McCann.
That's generally a good idea, but Dusty Baker chose to give Victor the Bryce Harper treatment. That left the Tigers with Jarrod Saltalamacchia pinch-hitting for Anthony Gose, and Baker promptly turned him around to the right side of the plate where he easily struck out.
Ausmus had the right idea. McCann and Gose are bad hitters, and bringing on pinch-hitters with a runner in scoring position late in the game is the right idea. Unfortunately, Ausmus played right into Baker's hand by choosing to use Victor earliest in the sequence.
As Ausmus himself said the other day, the players need to perform to turn the team's recent slump around. On the other hand, Ausmus needs to put his players in the best position to succeed, and on multiple occasions tonight he failed at that.