Sanchez excels in final start before Classic

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The next time Anibal Sanchez pitches, he'll be wearing a Venezuelan uniform, not the Old English 'D'. Manager Jim Leyland expects he'll still be getting ready for the Major League season in the process of pitching in the World Baseball Classic.

The Tigers have had position players and relief pitchers take part in the World Baseball Classic. A prominent starter such as Sanchez, fresh off signing a five-year, $80 million contract, is a new one for them.

"I'm not worried about it," Leyland said. "When that thing started, they had some rough spots. They weren't really sure. … It was something that had never been done before. Now, I think they're taking pride in it."

With the pitch limits written into the rules, overuse shouldn't be a problem. The test will be the intensity of the pitches. Instead of "getting his work in," he'll have national pride on the line.

"You can throw 35-40 pitches, and there are some pitches in games like now where you're throwing them to work on stuff," catcher Alex Avila said. "In those pitches you're throwing there [in the Classic], they're tough pitches. It's a little bit different as far as the adrenaline. There's a little bit more meaning behind the pitch. It's definitely different this time of the year for guys.

"Some guys have reacted both ways from it. I just hope that he just makes sure that he progresses and builds his arm strength, which I know he will."

Sanchez threw 30 of his 45 pitches for strikes over three scoreless innings Thursday, mixing in his entire repertoire. In that, he might be ahead of his fellow Tigers starters, which should help him going into Venezuelan camp.

So far, Avila said, Sanchez has been "a breeze to catch."

The stuff that made Sanchez stingy down the stretch last year once they developed a rapport has carried into this spring.

"Not only does he have an out pitch, he's got four above-average pitches," Avila said.