DETROIT -- Max Scherzer is running away with the Major League wins lead, trails only Yu Darvish among American League pitchers in strikeouts and will be a front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award at season's end. But quietly, teammate Anibal Sanchez is putting up similar numbers.
"Heck of a year," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
With 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball in Wednesday night's win against the Twins, Sanchez lowered his ERA to 2.45, trailing only Hiroki Kuroda among AL starters. He has dropped half a run off his ERA since the All-Star break, allowing eight runs on 36 hits over 47 2/3 innings.
Sanchez's .225 batting average against ranks fifth among AL starters, trailing Darvish, Scherzer, Hisashi Iwakuma and Justin Masterson. His home run ratio is the league's lowest, while his 1.13 WHIP ranks eighth.
Perhaps most surprising, though, is his strikeout rate. With 152 strikeouts over 139 2/3 innings, he owns a ratio of 9.79 strikeouts per nine innings. That's slightly better than Scherzer, who had the league's highest ratio last year. Only Darvish (11.96) has a higher rate this season among AL hurlers.
There's a reason for all this, Leyland said, and it has nothing to do with a career year.
"I don't think people realize how good his stuff is," Leyland said. "He has real good stuff."
Veras gives Leyland comfort in setup role
DETROIT -- Jose Veras can now claim a 20-save season on his Major League resume after recording the final four outs in the Tigers' 7-1 win over the Twins on Wednesday, but that's not where his value lies in Detroit. Instead, Veras' success in Detroit has come in the same setup role he filled for several teams before closing in Houston earlier this year.
In the process, Veras has given manager Jim Leyland a lot more comfort about filling Joaquin Benoit's old spot, the one he held down before becoming the closer.
"With Veras' addition, it's a relief for all of us, especially for me," Benoit said.
Veras was 19-for-22 in save opportunities for Houston when the Tigers acquired him on July 29. Not surprisingly on a last-place team, Veras did not have a lot of chances to pitch consecutive days. He also wasn't called upon for more than three outs very often.
That has changed in Detroit. His 11 appearances in just over three weeks as a Tiger mark the same workload over his final six weeks in Houston. That includes three sets of back-to-back appearances, two appearances of more than three outs, and three outings requiring more than 20 pitches.
Veras entered Wednesday's game with two outs in the eighth inning to protect a 4-1 lead for Benoit. Instead, Detroit's three-run eighth meant Benoit's services weren't needed. Veras stayed in for the ninth, striking out two batters to earn his first save as a Tiger.
"I think he's done very well for us," Leyland said. "I like him a lot. He's very quiet, very professional. He was a very nice addition for us."
Pena should be good to go against Mets
DETROIT -- The jammed big toe on Brayan Pena's right foot had healed enough by Thursday that manager Jim Leyland joked about getting the "toe truck" out for Pena after his limp from the batters' box to first base on Tuesday night. That was a pretty good sign the Tigers won't need to shelve Pena this weekend.
Pena made a late-game appearance in Thursday's 7-6 loss to the Twins in the series finale, pinch-hitting against setup man Jared Burton in the eighth inning and staying in to catch the ninth.
"I mean, I struck out, but I felt better," Pena said. "I blocked a couple balls in the dirt from [Al] Alburquerque."
Pena could have been behind the plate from the start if the Tigers needed him. With the Twins starting left-hander Andrew Albers, however, Leyland had no reason to rush Pena back, instead giving right-handed hitter Bryan Holaday his second consecutive start behind the plate. Holaday faced Albers at Triple-A Toledo in May. The move paid off, as Holaday homered off Albers in the third inning, the first long ball of his career.
Pena said he thinks he'll be available to start Friday's series opener against the Mets at Citi Field. With no designated hitter in the National League ballpark, Leyland could opt to give Victor Martinez a start at catcher, something he said Thursday he was still contemplating doing for a game to get Martinez's bat in the lineup.
"I'm very seriously thinking about it," Leyland said. "I haven't made a final decision yet."