Sanchez gains attention of Tigers greats

Sanchez gains attention of Tigers greats

DETROIT -- Ask members of the 1968 Tigers which current Detroit pitcher they enjoy watching, and Justin Verlander is universally mentioned.

"Definitely Verlander," Mickey Lolich said Saturday during the team's 45th anniversary celebration. "And I love the bulldog attitude that [Max] Scherzer has. And then I get a kick out of watching [Doug] Fister pitch. I mean, he's got pitches coming from all over the place."

When Anibal Sanchez's name comes up, though, it evokes the same kind of surprise from Lolich as most Tigers fans have had since Sanchez's trade to Detroit last July.

"We have to remember Sanchez,; I never thought Sanchez would be the one to break my strikeout record," Lolich said.

It's understandable. Even those who have watched him every day are impressed.

"I've been amazed that he throws as hard as he does when he wants to," Al Kaline said. "And he's getting three, four pitches over the plate. I thought when he was with Miami, he would walk guys. You have to give a lot of credit to [pitching coach] Jeff Jones, I would imagine, but he seems to be around the plate a lot more."

Another thing that has impressed Kaline is how much Sanchez works between starts.

"I've never seen anybody work out as much as him," Kaline said. "He's a workaholic. He's in the exercise room every day. I can't believe he works out that much."

Lolich's single-game strikeout record (16) lasted more than 40 years, well longer than he ever expected. He thought Jack Morris would break it in the 1980s, then Verlander, then he started leaning toward Scherzer.

He had things to do April 26, the night Sanchez started racking up strikeouts through the innings on his way to No. 17, but he kept track of the game on his computer. When the game was over and he heard the strikeout total, he was impressed.

"You know, really, I don't know a whole lot about him," Lolich acknowledged. "I saw him pitch last year, and I saw his game last night. He pitched great last night. He's like a sleeper as far as I'm concerned. He's starting to do stuff that is quite impressive, so we have to keep an eye on him."

Lolich's former teammate, John Hiller, sees Sanchez filling out a great rotation.

"Golly, it's come to the point where all the starters do some exceptional things up there," Hiller said. "Verlander's self-explanatory. Scherzer has three fantastic pitches also. Sanchez, I'm a little surprised this year. I didn't know he was that good. The Tigers did, they signed him to a long-term contract."

Denny McLain, baseball's last 30-game winner, said Verlander was the kind of pitcher who could have succeeded in any era.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.