On Sept. 6, 2006, a 22-year-old Anibal Sanchez threw a no-hitter against the Arizona Diamondbacks while pitching for the Marlins. It was the highlight of an impressive debut season in which he went 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA and even received rookie of the year votes. He looked like a burgeoning ace.
Of course, the trajectory of pitching careers isn't always predictable, and shoulder woes would limit Sanchez to fewer than 170 innings over the next three seasons.
Fast-forward to Detroit in 2013, and after a few years of solid, albeit unspectacular, pitching, we're finally starting to see a glimpse of that ace. First it was the 17-strikeout outing against the Braves a few Fridays ago; tonight, he took a no-hitter into the ninth before Joe Mauer broke it up with a one-out single. Sanchez shook it off to strike out the next two batters and finish off the one-hitter, a 6-0 Tigers victory.
Sanchez was a little erratic early on against the Twins, walking a batter in each of the first two innings before turning on the "total dominance" switch. He retired 18 straight from the second through the eighth, and other than a Justin Morneau line drive that was hit directly at shortstop Jhonny Peralta in the top of the seventh, there wasn't anything else that could be described as hard hit until Mauer's single.
Sanchez was running up a bit of a pitch count, having thrown 90 through six innings, and it looked like manager Jim Leyland might have to consider pulling him with a no-hitter still intact. But a nine-pitch seventh inning put Sanchez back on course, and he was able to cruise into the ninth.
Mauer loomed over that inning, and it was obvious the three-time batting champ would be the biggest obstacle between Sanchez and the no-hitter. Sure enough, Mauer smoked a 1-1 pitch right back up the middle for a clean single.
The no-hitter would have been a treat, but one hit shouldn't diminish the pitcher Sanchez has become. It's also a lesson that sometimes we need to be patient with pitching prospects. It's easy to write them off if they've had injuries or struggled for an extended period of time, but it's worth keeping the faith as long as their stuff is still intact.
In recent years we've seen a few former top pitching prospects who bloomed late, such as Homer Bailey, Brandon McCarthy and now Sanchez. So if you have been tempted to turn the page on the likes of Julio Teheran and Brandon Morrow because their ascent hasn't come as quickly and cleanly as you hoped, maybe you should hold off for a bit.
While some pitchers, such as Matt Harvey and Shelby Miller, hit the ground running in the majors, others, like Sanchez, take a few years to find their groove. With him, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer fronting the rotation, the Tigers might have the best trio of starters in the game.