DETROIT — That didn’t take long. The Tigers have decided to move Anibal Sanchez back into the bullpen after he gave up four runs during Saturday’s start. In the ‘pen he’s been dependable, but at this point the team can’t count on him to start games due to his combustible nature in the rotation.
In the bullpen, Sanchez had at least been helpful. He’d given up a run on two different occasions but was otherwise steady, and had six strikeouts and only two walks in 9 2/3 innings pitched for a 1.86 ERA. Taking the disclaimer regarding small sample sizes into account, his 2.14 RE24 is miles better than anything he would’ve given the Tigers in a starting role.
The hope was that Sanchez’s time spent in the bullpen would allow him to fix whatever had caused everything to go south. Instead, it took all of two pitches into the game for him to turn back into a pumpkin, and he gave up a home run to start the game. The third batter wasn’t much better, since that baseball landed in the seats, too.
An RBI single to right in the second and run-scoring forceout in the third — after Sanchez walked two and gave up a single to load the bases — tacked on the third and fourth runs he would allow that day. He would retire the next seven batters to end his day at five innings, but those first three innings were a perfect representation of why Sanchez can’t be trusted with a starting role.
With Sanchez in the rotation, the team had lost his last seven consecutive starts dating back to May 4. The last time he’d given the Tigers a start with less than three runs allowed was on April 28 against the Athletics — he lasted 5 2/3 innings and that was just his fifth start of the year. Sanchez has yet to give Detroit a quality start this year, and the only time he went seven innings deep he gave up four runs (the Tigers still lost).
Manager Brad Ausmus said the decision to move Sanchez back into the bullpen was “what is best for the team.” Given the right-hander’s track record for the last two months, it was realistically the only course of action available to the team if they wanted to go on winning baseball games.
As Sanchez moves back into the bullpen, the starters after Tuesday night are thus: Daniel Norris will start on Wednesday and Jordan Zimmermann gets Thursday for the start of a long road trip. Michael Fulmer will rejoin the rotation on Friday, getting his first start since being skipped on Saturday in an effort by the club to keep his innings under control.
Norris did relatively well in his first MLB start of the year since his back injury, but he only lasted five innings because he’s still building up his endurance. Zimmermann has been up and down since his groin strain, and Fulmer needs to be watched closely. As such, keeping Sanchez isn’t just the best decision for the rotation.
That decision also gives the Tigers a pitcher who can give more than one inning of relief if any the starting staff needs to be pulled. He’s not the only one, and Kyle Ryan has been better of late. But Ryan has been worked far too often lately and the team cannot keep going to the same long man day in and day out.
In limited doses, Sanchez has at least been manageable rather than a detriment. Maybe he’ll recover later on down the road to take back his rotation spot, but for the foreseeable future Sanchez is a reliever. With the way the replacement starters have been performing, it’s for the best.