"I didn't know anything about him, to be honest with you," the Tigers manager said, reflecting on Sanchez's early days in Detroit this summer.
But it did not take long for the report to grow longer. All Sanchez has done since a midsummer trade from the Marlins is improve, morphing into one of the best pitchers in baseball over the final six weeks of the season and aligning himself for a World Series Game 3 start against the Giants on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8:07 ET first pitch).
"Once he got in his comfort zone, he's done absolutely very, very well," Leyland said of Sanchez, who will look to prevent Detroit from falling into a near-insurmountable 3-0 World Series hole. "He's a very, very good pitcher and has pitched -- knock on wood -- in the past pretty good against the Giants. He was a great addition for our ballclub."
The numbers prove it. Shortly after he and second baseman Omar Infante arrived from Miami in exchange for top prospect Jacob Turner and several other players, Sanchez scuffled, giving up at least five runs in three of his first four starts. But he quickly recovered to go 3-3 with a 2.15 ERA down the stretch, walking just seven batters in 54 1/3 innings.
Tale of the Tape: Game 3
|2012 regular season|
|Overall: 31 GS, 14-9, 3.37 ERA, 62 BB, 158 K||Overall: 31 GS, 9-13, 3.86 ERA, 48 BB, 167 K|
|Key stat: Vogelsong is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three starts this postseason.||Key stat: Sanchez spent six years in the NL before being traded in July.|
|At Comerica Park|
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 2.70 ERA
|2012: 6 GS, 3-2, 3.47 ERA
Career: 6 GS, 3-2, 3.47 ERA
|Against this opponent|
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 2.70 ERA
|2012: 2 GS, 1-1, 4.38 ERA
Career: 5 GS, 3-1, 1.98 ERA
|Loves to face: Miguel Cabrera: 1-for-5, 2 K
Hates to face: Omar Infante: 7-for-11
|Loves to face: Buster Posey: 1-for-8, 4 K
Hates to face: Hunter Pence: 6-for-18, 2 RBI
|Why he'll win: Vogelsong was dominant the last time out, allowing one run on four hits while fanning nine in Game 6 of the NLCS.||Why he'll win: Sanchez tossed seven scoreless innings in Game 2 of the ALCS, striking out seven batters and walking three.|
|Pitcher beware: Vogelsong's road ERA of 3.87 is more than a run higher than his home mark.||Pitcher beware: Sanchez has not pitched since Game 2 of the ALCS on Oct. 14.|
|Bottom line: Vogelsong has been brilliant and the Giants are comfortable with him on the mound for their first Series road game.||Bottom line: Sanchez will be in familiar territory when he faces a National League squad in his World Series debut.|
Providing the rotation with a stabilizing force while Max Scherzer and Doug Fister battled injuries, Sanchez became the team's most consistent starter this side of Justin Verlander. And he carried that over into his first career postseason appearances, posting a 1.35 ERA over single starts in the American League Division Series and Championship Series.
"They made me comfortable quickly," Sanchez said of his new teammates, noting that he knew only former Marlins Infante and Miguel Cabrera at the time of the deal. "I know I had pretty bad starts in the beginning of my trade. I didn't know the hitters too much, but after that I make my adjustment."
It is not as if Sanchez's success materialized out of nowhere. After years of battling injuries in Miami, Sanchez gave the Marlins 391 1/3 quality innings in 2010 and '11, posting a 3.61 ERA despite a .500 record. Then he continued producing at a similar rate through 19 starts this season before the Tigers acquired him via trade.
"Really with him, it was just a matter of knowing that he's the type of guy that has confidence in all his pitches, that he can throw [them] at any time in the count for strikes," said Alex Avila, who caught nine of Sanchez's 12 starts with the Tigers. "A lot of times with certain guys, I can't do that."
So if Leyland, Avila and the rest of the Tigers did not know Sanchez before, they certainly know him now. And they have plenty of confidence in the right-hander's ability to outpitch Ryan Vogelsong, who will start Game 3 for the Giants with all the confidence of a 2-0 Series lead.
"When I think about Vogey, I think of perseverance," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of his Game 3 starter, who returned to the Majors in 2011 after some time in Japan. "He's always had great stuff, but he's had to deal with a lot."
The same might be said of Sanchez, who is pitching as well as ever at age 28. As a result, the Tigers have become completely reliant on their previously unknown quantity.
As a longtime National Leaguer, Sanchez has seen plenty of San Francisco over the years, going 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA in two starts against the Giants this season before the trade. He has done well in neutralizing Buster Posey (1-for-8, four strikeouts) and Pablo Sandoval (1-for-6, one strikeout), the two main power threats in San Francisco's lineup.
"He's pitched pretty well against the Giants in the past, and obviously we're saving Scherzer to give him a little more time to keep recouping a little bit," Leyland said, referencing the decision to pitch Sanchez over Scherzer in Game 3. "But Sanchez has really gotten acclimated here in Detroit. I expect him to pitch a good game."
If the Tigers are to win their first championship since 1984, they will simply need more of the same from Sanchez on Saturday night. Stuck in an 0-2 Series hole, they must take at least two of three in Detroit to send the series back to San Francisco.
"I know we're down ... but that's in the past," Sanchez said. "[Saturday] we need to start over. We need to forget what happened in San Francisco. I know we've got the talent. That's why we're here. We've got a pretty good team, so we're going to fight it to the end."