DETROIT -- Gerald Laird saw it coming.
"You could see it coming the last couple of outings," Laird said of Anibal Sanchez's complete-game three-hitter in Detroit's 2-0 win over Kansas City on Tuesday night. "His stuff's gotten a lot better. He's starting to feel comfortable, kind of finding himself on this team. Tonight I knew after the second inning."
Pitching coach Jeff Jones is particularly optimistic.
"I think every time he goes out there, he gets a little more comfortable," Jones said. "The quality of his stuff has been really good his last few times out."
Two starts before Tuesday night's gem, Sanchez took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Cleveland before three consecutive hits knocked him out of the game. He had the shadows of a late-afternoon start at Progressive Field working in his favor, but he also had tremendous command of the strike zone. Then last week he came back and threw five solid innings against Oakland before giving up a four-run sixth.
On Tuesday he sustained his early excellence.
"I felt more strong on every pitch," Sanchez said. "I tried to be aggressive all the time. I don't want to miss, I don't want to leave any pitch for the hitters. I don't want to give any chances, especially today. I know the game's important and we are in the end of the season. We're really close in the race in the AL Central."
The result was not only sustained velocity but sustained command. According to data from brooksbaseball.net, Sanchez gained a full mile per hour on his fastball from August to September, and is now just under 94 mph, and he's mixing his pitches more.
On Tuesday he was able to throw fastballs with movement at 94 and 95 mph while throwing 12 of his 16 curveballs for strikes. He got 17 swings and misses from Royals hitters, seven of them on sliders, on his way to 10 strikeouts. He also induced 14 ground balls compared with six hit into the air.
Verlander quietly making his case for Cy
DETROIT -- Lost in all the buzz about Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown and MVP chances is that ace Justin Verlander has a realistic shot at being named the American League Cy Young Award winner for the second straight year.
It hasn't been a huge topic of conversation in the clubhouse, mostly because Verlander's 2011 numbers were so outstanding that his stats this year seem almost pedestrian, but he's once again among the league leaders in most statistical categories.
He paces the league in innings pitched (231 1/3) and strikeouts (231), is second to Los Angeles' Jered Weaver (1.00) with a 1.06 WHIP and second to Tampa Bay's David Price (2.56) with a 2.72 ERA. He's also tied for fifth in wins (16).
"Justin's definitely been a good enough pitcher to be talked about as far as the Cy Young Award winner," catcher Alex Avila said. "Price has pitched unbelievable, though."
As the season comes to a close, the race for the Cy Young has seemingly narrowed to Price and Verlander -- with Weaver and White Sox lefty Chris Sale a bit farther behind.
Both Verlander and Price are scheduled to make one more regular-season start. What makes it interesting for the Tigers is that whereas a poor outing from Price would certainly bolster Verlander's candidacy, that last outing for the Rays lefty is in U.S. Cellular Field, against the White Sox.
But with the Tigers and White Sox tied atop the division entering Wednesday and with eight games left in the regular season, the individual awards aren't of prime importance.
"To be honest with you, when Price pitches against Chicago, I hope he shuts them out for nine innings," Avila said. "I mean, Justin winning a Cy Young would be phenomenal, just like Miguel winning the MVP would be great, but all that kind of takes a backseat to us getting to the playoffs."
Manager Jim Leyland, who hasn't been shy in making his case for Cabrera when it comes to who deserves the MVP nod, was asked to weigh in on Verlander's chances on Wednesday. He believes the Cy Young race is much closer.
"I don't really know. I think he's got a shot. I think if he wins another start, he's got a shot," Leyland said. "I think if David Price wins on Sunday, which I hope he does, that'd be his 20th win."
Price would be the first AL pitcher to 20 wins. But since the biggest disparity between Cabrera and Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the wins above replacement (WAR) stat, it's worth noting that Verlander's WAR, according to FanGraphs.com (6.5) and Baseball-Reference.com (7.1), is higher than Price's -- 5.0 and 6.2, respectively.
"As far as the opportunities he's given us to win games he pitches, it's second to none," Avila said.
Leyland turning to Berry instead of Boesch
DETROIT -- Rookie outfielder Quintin Berry began the month of August by playing in three straight games. After Aug. 4, though, he didn't appear in the lineup for back-to-back games for more than a month.
He found himself in a reserve role, serving mostly as a late-game defensive replacement and pinch-runner, as Austin Jackson, Andy Dirk and Brennan Boesch served as the three starting outfielders.
He's still used in both roles against lefties, but as of Sept. 15, he's been used in the lineup instead of Boesch on a more regular basis against right-handed pitching.
"In my opinion, at this particular time, against a righty, I think I have to play Berry over Boesch," manager Jim Leyland said on Wednesday. "I made that decision down the stretch. That's just the way it is."
Leyland also likes the added threat of Berry's speed at the top of the lineup.
Berry, batting .280 against right-handers this season compared with Boesch's .247, is 8-for-28 in the seven games he's started in September. Boesch is 10-for-47 in 14 starts this month and, as a result, has started one game since Sept. 17.
Infante feeling more comfortable in the field
DETROIT -- Omar Infante said on Wednesday that he's feeling more confident and comfortable in the field in recent days after a spate of miscues at second base. He thanks infield coach Rafael Belliard, in part, for that.
"I've been practicing a lot in the field with Raffy," Infante said. "I'm more relaxed from being more confident in my glove and in turning double plays."
Belliard worked with Infante in 2006 and 2007 before the Tigers traded Infante to the Cubs. At that point, however, he wasn't the Tigers' everyday second baseman but a utility player. Second base, at the time, belonged to Placido Polanco.
The tip from Belliard that made a big difference, he said, was quite specific in regard to double plays after he had trouble making throws, and dealing with takeout slides became a glaring issue.
It was certainly an issue last week in Chicago. Infante took the throw from Jhonny Peralta and stepped forward, right into the slide of Alex Rios. It's not something he does all the time, and it wasn't an issue with the Marlins this year, according to Infante, but it was noticeable in that instance.
"Raffy gave me a tip to stay back when I throw to first," he said.
The Tigers have announced that they will take part in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Wildlife Without Borders program in the Division of International Conservation to help save tigers across the globe. To commemorate the partnership, Wildlife Without Borders will join the team on the field prior to Thursday's regular-season home finale as the Tigers present a $25,000 donation.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.