Sanchez has eyes on a title
Last year eliminated every question about the 24-year-old — except how far he can go
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.”
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.