TORONTO – Aaron Sanchez has arrived.
It's the ultimate future-meets-now moment for a franchise at a crossroads. The Blue Jays are hoping a guy who the club expects to be at the centre of successful seasons down the road can contribute to the playoff push of the present.
Sanchez will do so out of the bullpen, at least at the beginning, because the Jays wish to manage his innings. Manager John Gibbons will use Sanchez in high-leverage situations, although he'd like to allow Sanchez to get his feet wet with nobody on base. His first appearance likely will be at the start of an inning.
“He's here to help us, not just here to be here and fill a role and we think he will,” said Gibbons. “You guys all know what kind of arm he's got. It's his first time there, but we plan on using him. We're not going to baby him, but we'll keep an eye on him.”
Sanchez threw about 110 innings last season between Single-A Dunedin and the Arizona Fall League. He's at 100 1/3 innings so far this year, the bulk of which were with Double-A New Hampshire. Sanchez made six starts for Triple-A Buffalo, but his last two appearances were in relief. He was moved to the bullpen after the All-Star break in anticipation of his promotion to the Blue Jays.
With a 20-per cent innings increase planned for this season, Sanchez has about 30 innings to pitch for Toronto.
If he's good, Sanchez addresses a need for the Blue Jays: a right-handed arm to help Dustin McGowan bridge the gap to closer Casey Janssen. It would allow general manager Alex Anthopoulos to focus on another area of need, specifically the infield.
“Coming out of the ‘pen, I don't think it's going to be that hard,” said Sanchez. “I've done it a couple of times down there and I adapted to it fast my first couple of times. I had the normal soreness, just because we had three days off going from the All-Star break, but after my second outing I bounced back real quick.”
Sanchez was the 34th-overall pick (first round) of the 2010 draft, Alex Anthopoulos's first as general manager. In a perfect world, regardless of Sanchez's role the remainder of the season, he adapts to the big leagues as well as his fellow first rounder, Marcus Stroman (22nd-overall, 2012).
He insisted he's not afraid of the big stage. He's looking forward to pitching in front of major league crowds. Stadia with three decks won't faze him.
“I think Montreal was a big testament to that. You know, pitching in front of a crowd like that, just, you being in a big league atmosphere,” said Sanchez. “I think that's what I was expecting when I came back up.”
Sanchez went through a period of control problems at Double-A. He was pulled early from a couple of outings when he hit 30 pitches in a single inning, a limit set by the Blue Jays in order to protect the prized asset.
His command returned with some minor tweaks to his delivery.
“I don't think it was more of an arm slot change, it was just about being more consistent with the arm slot,” said Sanchez. “There were a couple of mechanical things that would be inconsistent with my arm slot, so that's what we did down there is kind of go back to the foundation. The more and more I repeated the delivery thing, everything else kind of fell into place.”
Sanchez doesn't plan to minimize his repertoire while pitching in relief, as some starters will do.
His parents arrived in Toronto, from the Southern Calfornia town of Barstow, in time to be at Rogers Centre. His dad was the first person he called.
“I called my pops, absolutely,” said Sanchez. “He's been by my side from day one. I wish he could be there, in person, with me to share that moment because over the phone didn't do any justice.”
ROGERS, GOINS REJOIN BLUE JAYS
Sanchez's promotion wasn't the only move the ballclub made on Tuesday.
Pitcher Esmil Rogers's contract was selected and infielder Ryan Goins was recalled from Buffalo.
To make room, Brad Mills was designated for assignment and Darin Mastrioanni and Erik Kratz were optioned to Buffalo.