Anibal Sanchez was a "nice pitcher," as manager Jim Leyland put it, for the Tigers in the second half last season, posting a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts down the stretch. He was even better in the postseason, suffering two losses in three starts despite an impressive 1.77 ERA.
But Sanchez has been something else entirely so far this season. He showed that Friday, when he struck out a franchise-record 17 batters over eight shutout innings against the Braves. He walked only one, picked up his third win and lowered his ERA to 1.34 after five starts.
Though it would seem difficult to improve on that kind of performance, Sanchez will set out to do so Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park, where the Tigers will go for their sixth straight win and a series sweep against Scott Diamond and the Twins.
"He's really been impressive with his stuff. I thought, from what I've seen, his stuff is much better than it was the first couple outings for us. He's really got good stuff," Leyland said. "When we first got him, he looked nice, a nice pitcher, good pitcher, but even last year, towards the end, you could see that his stuff was really good.
"But he's stronger, too. He's stronger this year. I could tell he's done some strengthening stuff. If you look at Sanchez, he doesn't look like a very big guy, but if you look at his arms, they're huge. You'd be surprised. He's bigger than you think he is. And he's got really good stuff."
He'll face Diamond, who set a career-high mark in a much less enviable category Friday, when the Rangers roughed him up for 12 hits. Yet Diamond was able to minimize the damage and recorded a quality start, allowing three runs over 6 1/3 innings. Still, the lefty took his second loss in three starts this season.
After giving up two runs on three doubles in the first inning, Diamond settled in and didn't allow another run until the sixth inning, when he served up a solo homer to Adrian Beltre.
"I feel like I battled," Diamond said Friday. "It's kinda frustrating the first inning mounted on me just a little bit, but I was able to battle from there. The defense made some nice plays behind me, and I was able to make pitches and get groundballs when I needed to."
Twins: Mauer snaps skid, may sit Wednesday
• Catcher Joe Mauer went 1-for-4 in Tuesday's 6-1 loss and snapped an 0-for-21 stretch with a third-inning single. Mauer entered the game with just two hits in his last 30 at-bats, a skid that came on the heels of a 10-game hitting streak.
But Mauer, the only Twin to play in all 23 games this season, may sit out Wednesday's series finale at Comerica Park. Minnesota has an off-day Thursday, and manager Ron Gardenhire would like to give Mauer some extra rest, though he said the catcher feels "great."
"[Wednesday's] a day game, and I look at that, because of the off-day, as a chance to maybe get through tonight and see how [Ryan] Doumit is feeling," Gardenhire said Tuesday. "[Doumit] had a flu bug yesterday. We're trying to get him through that. But my goal is to maybe give [Mauer] tomorrow and have the off-day, back-to-back days."
• Gardenhire started Wilkin Ramirez in center field for the first time this season, and Ramirez responded by going 2-for-3 with an RBI double off Justin Verlander and a walk.
Tigers: Coke dealing with sore groin
• Lefty reliever Phil Coke is still bothered by the left groin strain that's sidelined him since last weekend, and the Tigers haven't gained much certainty regarding when he'll be ready to return.
Coke didn't pitch Tuesday night and his availability to do so hinged on a pregame throwing session. Lefty Drew Smyly pitched another scoreless inning Tuesday after recording four big outs Monday night, and lefty Darin Downs could also be called upon to face left-handed hitters.
• With the lefty Diamond on the mound, Matt Tuiasosopo and Brayan Pena should be back in the Tigers' lineup Wednesday.
• Miguel Cabrera went 1-for-4 with a homer Tuesday night, his 997th hit since joining the Tigers before the 2008 season. He's now only three hits shy of becoming the 30th player in franchise history to record 1,000 hits in a Tigers uniform.
• Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has 206 career homers and needs one more to tie Kirby Puckett for fifth on the Twins' all-time list.