Blue Jays do about-face on Sanchez Situation
HOUSTON – After thorough consultation with people inside and out of the Blue Jays organization, the team’s deep thinkers have done an about-face on the Aaron Sanchez conundrum.
The 24-year-old righthander, who has developed rapidly into the ace of the starting rotation, will stay in that role until further notice.
General manager Ross Atkins flew into Houston from Toronto Thursday and delivered the surprising news after talking with uniformed personnel, and especially Sanchez, during the afternoon.
“He’s going to stay in the rotation for the time being,” said Atkins. “The most likely scenario is that he stays in the rotation for some time to come.
“I think what changed for us is that, a couple of things: input from more people, one of those people being Francisco Liriano, who was open to anything and everything. If it meant going to the ‘pen, if it meant a six-man rotation, that opened things up for us to think about things differently.
“Then talking to Aaron about it and how strongly he felt about staying in the rotation. Fortunately we’re in a situation where we can continue to do it.”
Because Sanchez has never pitched more than 130 innings in any season since he turned pro — and the reasons for that are a story unto themselves — there are fears he could risk an arm injury, like the ones that have beset Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg, if his workload increase is too great, season over season.
With his 21st start last weekend, Sanchez has now pitched 139.1 innings. If he was to continue on that path through September and, possibly, an October playoff run, he could conceivably hit 230 innings for the year.
For that reason, the plan ever since spring training has been for Sanchez to finish out his season in the bullpen. But when that determination was made in March, no one could possibly have foreseen how massively successful he would be as a starter, far beyond the expectations of even his most optimistic supporters.
If the Cy Young Award was presented today, he would probably win it. That’s how good he has been. He has an 11-1 record with a 2.71 ERA and appears to be getting better as the season wears on.
“I didn’t see him being so good this fast,” said manager John Gibbons. “I knew he could be good but I didn’t think it would happen this quickly. Really, that changed some things for me, too. Any time you’re dealing with a young arm that throws that hard and is making a big jump in innings like that, it’s always risky.
“The fact that he’s got roughly 140 innings now, another start or two and then you throw him the bullpen, what does that do to him? He’s pitched out of the ‘pen, but he’s never had this many innings going into the ‘pen. It really came down to he’s been so good, run with it, see where it takes us and when this year is all said and done, this will be the last of it, he’ll have free range next year. It’s been a little confusing for him, too, because we’ve been up in the air, we’re trying to make the right decision and we’re tossing so many things about.”
For now, the Jays will go with a six-man rotation, which will give Sanchez and, indeed, all the starters, an extra day of rest each time through. That will not only cut down on his innings buildup but also give his body more time to recover in between starts, which many experts believe is an important factor in injury prevention.
While this might be considered a roll of the dice with Sanchez’s future at stake, there is nothing preventing the Jays from reversing field again at the first sign of fatigue or discomfort.
“You don’t want to put people in danger zones,” said Atkins. “You’ve seen them with Strasburg and Harvey, this has occurred before. It’s really just the unknown. There’s nothing concrete, there’s no science to it.
“It’s a lot of experience, talking to other front offices, talking to other scouts, talking to other players, talking to former players and really trying to do the best thing for this organization and for Aaron moving forward. If we were just to say what is the absolute best thing for us to win this year and this year alone, then we can just roll the dice but no one in baseball makes decisions that way.
“You’re always thinking about sustained success and the livelihood of young men. We signed up for that from Day 1, that we started working for the Toronto Blue Jays, that we’re here for their futures as well. That’s at the forefront of every decision that we make.”
That said, the Blue Jays are in a unique situation. They are in position to make a run at a World Series title and everybody in the clubhouse, including the other five starters, are all in on this decision
“Everything is on the table when you’re trying to win,” said Atkins. “We’ll consider anything and everything but really we’re just focused on the six-man rotation for now.”
At some point, even with all the alterations that will be made with a six-man rotation, Sanchez’s innings buildup is still going to get into uncharted territory.
“We do have thresholds that would be uncomfortable, like Mark (team president Shapiro) has said. There’s not a scenario where he pitches 220, 230 innings. If you look over the course of baseball, finding those outliers is near impossible with those types of increases. So he’s going to go into a territory that’s uncomfortable and uncommon.
“(Sanchez) is comfortable with that. We’ve worked together on what that range or territory should be, but there’s so many variables like we’ve talked about all year, really, that will contribute to ultimately what’s best for him and this team.”