"You could see it coming the last couple of outings," Laird said of Anibal Sanchez's complete-game three-hitter in Detroit's 2-0 win over Kansas City on Tuesday night. "His stuff's gotten a lot better. He's starting to feel comfortable, kind of finding himself on this team. Tonight I knew after the second inning."
Pitching coach Jeff Jones is particularly optimistic.
"I think every time he goes out there, he gets a little more comfortable," Jones said. "The quality of his stuff has been really good his last few times out."
Two starts before Tuesday night's gem, Sanchez took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Cleveland before three consecutive hits knocked him out of the game. He had the shadows of a late-afternoon start at Progressive Field working in his favor, but he also had tremendous command of the strike zone. Then last week he came back and threw five solid innings against Oakland before giving up a four-run sixth.
On Tuesday he sustained his early excellence.
"I felt more strong on every pitch," Sanchez said. "I tried to be aggressive all the time. I don't want to miss, I don't want to leave any pitch for the hitters. I don't want to give any chances, especially today. I know the game's important and we are in the end of the season. We're really close in the race in the AL Central."
The result was not only sustained velocity but sustained command. According to data from brooksbaseball.net, Sanchez gained a full mile per hour on his fastball from August to September, and is now just under 94 mph, and he's mixing his pitches more.
On Tuesday he was able to throw fastballs with movement at 94 and 95 mph while throwing 12 of his 16 curveballs for strikes. He got 17 swings and misses from Royals hitters, seven of them on sliders, on his way to 10 strikeouts. He also induced 14 ground balls compared with six hit into the air.