Healthy Sanchez could keep Jays well armed
DUNEDIN — Aaron Sanchez threw off the mound on Wednesday and looked like the dominant pitcher he was in 2016.
“The ball was coming out free and easy, lot of life to it, good movement,” said Toronto catcher Russell Martin. “But all his pitches, they looked the same coming out and that’s kind of the key as a pitcher — the art of deception. Everything has to look the same. The change-up was coming out nice, the breaking stuff was sharp. The delivery just looked clean and he looked comfortable out there. Definitely good for a first day of work.”
It’s no secret that if the Toronto Blue Jays are going to have any chance of making the playoffs this season, Sanchez has to round back into form.
The American League ERA leader two seasons ago (3.00 with a 15-2 record), Sanchez suffered through a miserable campaign in 2017, landing on the DL four times as a result of blister issues on his right middle finger that resulted in him throwing only 36 innings with a 4.25 ERA.
After consulting numerous specialists, Sanchez and the Jays are hopeful the 25-year-old can bounce back. From what he saw on Wednesday at Bobby Mattick Training Centre, Russell is optimistic.
“I believe he’s one of the best pitchers in the league, so if you can get a guy like that to stay healthy the whole year, it’s definitely going to help us,” Martin said.
There’s a feeling at spring training that if the Jays’ rotation — Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and perhaps Joe Biagini — can stay healthy, they do have a viable shot of at least earning a wild-card spot.
“Tremendous arms there,” Martin said. “I definitely think that with that type of talent you can beat the best offences. We all know the American League has a ton of hitting, so we’re going to need our pitching.”
GM Ross Atkins has said the club is pursuing another starter via a trade or free agency, which would allow Biagini, who struggled as a starter last year, to go back to the bullpen.
■ One of the biggest stories at spring training for the Blue Jays this year will be how Josh Donaldson handles all the questions about his future.
The all-star third baseman and 2015 AL MVP becomes a free agent after the 2018 season and there has already been a ton of debate as to whether he signs an extension with the Blue Jays or gets traded before the season is done.
Jays manager John Gibbons isn’t worried about his star third baseman becoming distracted.
“He’s probably the most motivated guy I’ve ever been around, in his own way,” Gibbons said. “So I think the fact he’s a free agent at the end of this year is only going to help him.”
■ Gibbons is confident starting middle infielders, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (hamstring injury and sprained right ankle) and second baseman Devon Travis (right knee surgery) will be ready to start the season.
Travis is considered the best pure hitter on the roster but has been unable to stay off the DL.
Pitcher Aaron Sanchez, shown during spring training Wednesday in Dunedin, Fla., could be key to the Toronto Blue Jays’ hopes for a return to the playoffs in 2018.