The sound being heard among Detroit Tigers fans everywhere is one of relief.
It is always a question mark whenever a pitcher returns to the lineup after an extended absence, and there was some trepidation regarding how Anibal Sanchez would look in his return to the rotation. Those question marks disappeared when Sanchez took the hill Sunday against the Boston Red Sox in front of a national television audience. He threw five innings before yielding to the Tigers’ bullpen. In those five innings, 56 of his 80 pitches were thrown for strikes.
Anyone questioning why Sanchez was removed so early needs to understand what is at stake here. The Tigers signed Sanchez to a five-year contract worth over $80 million after the 2012 season. He just returned from a nearly month-long absence due to a laceration on his middle pitching finger. The last thing the Tigers would want is to see Sanchez pitch more than he needed in a return to the mound and have that laceration come open again.
Sanchez’s return makes an already deadly pitching staff even more potent. With the punch of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly already in play, Sanchez’s return makes the rotation strong from top to bottom.
There are also backups. Robbie Ray pitched well in Sanchez’s absence and remained on the roster for now, even when Sanchez was activated. There is some sentiment for returning Ray to Triple-A Toledo so he can continue to pitch every fifth day, but general manager Dave Dombrowski has not pulled the trigger on that for now.
A healthy Sanchez bolsters the pitching staff. The bullpen is another story, and that’s best left for another column. However, the Tigers are resurgent in the hitting department with a recovering Miguel Cabrera, a deadly Victor Martinez, and other key pieces such as Rajai Davis, Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson.
The Tigers have some breathing room for the first time in a while. Detroit has a large lead over the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central, and the team has done quite well for itself even in Sanchez’s absence. This is a great sign. A good team just got better, and the rest of the AL Central will cry in their beers for the time being.
Anibal Sanchez may have made a triumphant return away from Detroit, but a national audience was watching. Detroit fans everywhere can smile.