The Detroit Tigers envision Anibal Sanchez as the starter that bridges the gap between the front and back end of their rotation.
Lately, there has been a disconnect.
The Tigers hope Sanchez can rebound from his latest disaster to deliver them a series win over the visiting Oakland Athletics on Thursday.
Three years ago, Sanchez (2-2, 7.00 ERA) set a franchise record with 17 strikeouts against Atlanta. The right-hander went 14-8 in that 2013 season behind a career-best 2.57 ERA and a career high-tying 202 strikeouts.
His numbers have steadily declined since, continuing to roll downhill with a miserable 2016 start.
Sanchez has 17 strikeouts between his first four outings, but the issue is what hitters are doing when they make contact. They're batting .333 with a .389 average on balls in play while hitting four home runs - continuing a trend from last season when Sanchez tied for first in the AL by allowing a career-high 29.
Saturday was rock bottom as he matched his shortest outing in a Tigers uniform with 2 1/3 innings in a 10-1 loss to Cleveland. The Indians pounded out nine hits and seven runs off Sanchez while he labored through 60 pitches.
Sanchez's struggles leave a major question mark for the Tigers, who count on the 11-year veteran to eat up innings behind Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander - the only two Detroit starters to toss seven innings.
"I try my best all the time when I'm on the mound. I know everybody tries," Sanchez told MLB's official website. "When I'm on the mound and I'm not able to throw more than three innings, it's really bad for the team - especially for the guys on the field."
Sanchez was strong through five innings in his first two starts before tiring in the sixth. The last two he has struggled out of the gate, allowing a combined five hits and five runs in the first inning.
Detroit (10-10) lost four of six against Oakland when Sanchez started over the last four seasons. However, he holds a 2.82 ERA while the Athletics have hit .195 against him in his last three meetings.
Coco Crisp is the Oakland hitter with the most success in the matchup, going 8 for 19 with a homer and four doubles - including playoffs. Josh Reddick has two home runs and a single in 16 at-bats against Sanchez.
After recording 20 hits while splitting the first two games of this series, the Athletics (11-11) were held to two through the first six innings of Wednesday's 9-4 loss - their fourth in five games after opening a season-high 10-game road trip with four straight wins.
They will try to wake up offensively to back Chris Bassitt, who hasn't won in his last 11 starts. The third-year pro has received 35 runs of support in 22 career starts, going 2-10 despite a 3.79 ERA.
Bassitt (0-1, 4.44) pitched well through his first three starts, allowing six earned runs over 19 1/3 innings, but he was shelled by a potent Toronto lineup while lasting five in Saturday's 9-3 loss. He surrendered a career-high nine hits, including two homers, and six runs.
Despite drawing the lowest run-support average of Oakland starters over the last two seasons at 2.26, the right-hander took the blame after his latest loss.
"The offense did well again, and I just didn't give us a chance, and that's the most disappointing thing," Bassitt said.