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.
Leyland weighs in on home-plate collisions
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jim Leyland wasn't a Major League catcher like several current managers, but he was a Minor League catcher before he got into coaching. He also has managed long enough to see several nasty collisions at home plate.
He read what Mike Matheny said recently about pushing to forbid collisions at home plate, and he agrees with the reasoning. However, Leyland sounded cautious about setting rules in situations where throws home draw catchers into the path of the runner.
"I think you have to define what's a collision, first of all," Leyland said Thursday morning. "Is a collision something where the catcher has the ball waiting for [the baserunner] 10 feet away and he goes full speed and tries to run over him? Or is it a bang-bang play at the plate that couldn't be helped?
"If the catcher has to react to a throw from right field and it's down the third-base line, [the runner] might happen to be there. You can't ask the runner to jump out and maybe turn an ankle or something, either. I think some of them can't be helped, but I do agree with this -- if you've got a guy out at home plate by 10 feet, I don't think he should be able to try to run you over. I do agree with that."
At the same time, Leyland sounded hesitant to completely remove a catcher's right to block the plate when a throw comes in.
"I think it's OK to block the plate," Leyland said. "I don't think there's anything wrong with blocking the plate."
Leyland's view brings up the question of a judgment call for umpires in terms of intent or distance, whether a catcher has control of a ball and has established position in front of the plate, or whether a runner has enough time to avoid a collision. That's all a debate for another time.
Leyland could end up being an influential voice on this topic. He sits on Major League Baseball's special committee for on-field matters, which has recommended several rules changes that have been adopted over the past few years. He has not lost a catcher to a home plate collision in recent years, but he has seen what has happened to others, such as Yadier Molina and Buster Posey.
Tigers plan to honor '68 championship team
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Forty-five years after the Tigers won the World Series behind greats such as Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich and Denny McLain, the Tigers will plan to honor the team with a tribute on Saturday, May 25, before their 4:05 p.m. ET game against the Minnesota Twins.
Members of the 1968 world championship team will be celebrated in an on-field, pregame ceremony. The first 10,000 fans through the gates will receive a commemorative coin.
Other special nights announced include the 19th annual Negro Leagues tribute on April 27, the 43rd annual Polish-American night on May 24, the third annual classic car show on June 8, Christmas in July on July 31, the eighth annual Fiesta Tigres celebration on Aug. 3, and Star Wars night on Sept. 14.
Individual game tickets for the entire home schedule will go on sale Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. ET online at tigers.com, by phone at 866-66-TIGER, and in person at the Comerica Park box office and at Hockeytown Authentics in Troy.
• Leyland said outfielder Andy Dirks could be ready to play Friday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. Dirks has been sidelined this week with an intercostal strain.
• Don Kelly has now reached base in half of his 10 plate appearances this spring. He is now 3-for-8 on the spring with two walks.