Sanchez has eyes on a title

Last year elim­i­nated ev­ery ques­tion about the 24-year-old — ex­cept how far he can go

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - STEVE BUFFERY TORONTO SUN sbuffery@post­media.com twit­ter.com/ beez­er­sun

A re­porter from an Amer­i­can wire ser­vice asked pretty well ev­ery Toronto Blue Jay avail­able on Wed­nes­day if win­ning a World Se­ries this year was a real pos­si­bil­ity.

And ev­ery one of them, not sur­pris­ingly, said it was, in­clud­ing start­ing pitcher Aaron Sanchez.

“I think so,” the na­tive of Barstow, Calif., said. “The last few off-sea­sons I think ev­ery­body in this club­house (has been think­ing), ‘We got to the same spot twice and un­for­tu­nately came out on the los­ing side.’ So I think that’s one of the humps that this whole or­ga­ni­za­tion is try­ing to over­come. So I think you said it per­fect: It’s World Se­ries for us, or it’s very dis­ap­point­ing for us.”

Sanchez will prob­a­bly have the most to say in 2017 as to whether the Jays win a World Se­ries for the first time since 1993. Ear­lier this week, fel­low starter Marco Estrada said one of the beau­ti­ful things about the Jays’ start­ing ro­ta­tion was the fact all five starters — him­self, Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Mar­cus Stro­man and Fran­cisco Liri­ano — were close in abil­ity and there’s not a lot of pres­sure on any one guy to carry the team. But Sanchez, the youngest starter at 24, is as close to be­ing an ace as you can get.

Last year, in only his third sea­son in the bigs, he made the Amer­i­can League all-star team, post­ing a 15-2 record, a 3.00 ERA and 161 strike­outs in 192 in­nings pitched. If Sanchez is lights-out again this year and the rest of the start­ing ro­ta­tion stays healthy, the Jays could have a shot at a World Se­ries — though it could be tough to get out of their own di­vi­sion, par­tic­u­larly with the Bos­ton Red Sox adding lefty Chris Sale to their ro­ta­tion.

At least this sea­son, Sanchez won’t be dis­tracted to the point of ir­ri­ta­tion as he was for much of 2016. The young righty proved last sea­son he can carry a heavy work­load, and the dis­cus­sions about how many in­nings he can han­dle should largely be a thing of the past.

“Yeah, I don’t see any lim­i­ta­tions,” Jays man­ager John Gib­bons said. “He ended up throw­ing a full year last year be­cause some good things hap­pened. He’s a big strong kid. He worked re­ally hard this win­ter.

“We’re go­ing to mon­i­tor him here in spring train­ing and back him off a lit­tle bit. I don’t think he makes his first spring train­ing start un­til (March) 8 or 9, some­thing like that. So we’ll keep an eye on that, but he’s good to go. No con­cerns.”

Sanchez, whose pre­vi­ous high in in­nings over a pro­fes­sional sea­son was 102, ad­mit­ted he felt fa­tigued af­ter the 2016 sea­son and dropped a con­sid­er­able amount of weight, but said it wasn’t a prob­lem.

“You got to lis­ten to your body and it will tell you every­thing,” he said. “I think the big­gest thing from now un­til the sea­son starts is just com­mu­ni­ca­tion (with the team) on how I feel and what we do mov­ing for­ward af­ter that.”

Sanchez threw his high-to­mid-90s fast­ball 88 per cent of the time dur­ing his first sea­son with the Jays in 2014, but that dropped to 74.3 per cent last year with the de­vel­op­ment of his curve­ball and change-up. He hopes to im­prove on his sec­ondary pitches as his ca­reer ad­vances.

“The last few years (at spring train­ing) I’ve come in hav­ing to com­pete for a spot,” Sanchez said. “This year, I get the lux­ury of (be­ing able) to work on things, the big­gest thing be­ing my changeup. I feel like I made tremen­dous strides with my curve­ball last sea­son and even in the off-sea­son. So I think our fo­cus this year is change-up. I don’t want to get too caught up into it, just enough to have that fear, to be com­fort­able with it.”

NATHAN DENETTE/THE

Toronto Blue Jays man­ager John Gib­bons, seen shar­ing a laugh with start­ing pitcher Aaron Sanchez at spring train­ing in Dunedin, Fla., on Wed­nes­day, says he has “no con­cerns” about Sanchez’s abil­ity to start for a full sea­son af­ter last year’s cam­paign.

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