The day the Sanchez to bullpen debate began to heat up

Originally published March 24, 2016


By: Bob Elliott

Canadian Baseball Network

DUNEDIN, Fla. _ Our Ken Fidlin was like Prior Smith, whose Canada Calling radio show with news from home is in its 62nd year.

Fidlin brought the bulletin with him Thursday morn as he returned to Florida: there is a heated debate going on among fans and on talk radio whether the Jays should employ Aaron Sanchez either as a starter or a reliever.


Rogers Communications should broadcast all of its spring games.

Like on Wednesday when Sanchez pitched 6 1/3 scoreless against the National League champion New York Mets. He allowed four hits: a triple to Marc Krauss, plus singles to Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera. After the one-out triple he retired Kevin Plawecki on a comebacker and escaped by fanning Rivera. 

Sanchez didn’t walk a hitter striking out Michael Conforto, Lagares, Krauss and Rivera. 

Since we can’t go to the tape, we take you scouts’ row for some reviews on Sanchez’s latest outing:

“If they have five guys better than Aaron Sanchez and he does not fit their rotation they are going to win 150 games,” said one NL scout.

“He was 94-96 mph -- with command -- in the seventh inning of his fourth start of the spring,” said another veteran evaluator.

“Sanchez is their best starter right now, not the best No. 5 candidate, but No. 1 and that includes Marcus Stroman,” said a seasoned scout, “but despite all that there is this strong Gavin Floyd undercurrent floating around here.”

Manager John Gibbons is set with Stroman facing the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field eight days from now. Then, R.A. Dickey will go second, followed by either J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada.

Either Floyd or Sanchez, will win out over Drew Hutchison and Jesse Chavez for the other spot.

Floyd has made 14 starts appearing in 21 games the last three seasons, going 2-6 with a 3.33 ERA. He appeared in seven games in relief with the Cleveland Indians last year.

Floyd, 33, starts at the Bobby Mattick Center Friday and has allowed three earned runs in 12 1/3 innings.

Sanchez, 23, has surrendered three runs in 20 innings.

The Sanchez-to-the-bullpen lobby is led by the Jays own front office.

President Mark Shapiro has indicated Floyd has the edge over Sanchez, who has never pitched more than the 133 1/3 innings he worked in 2014. Starting at double-A New Hampshire, he moved to triple-A Buffalo and joined the Jays to overpower AL hitters -- 1.03 ERA in 33 innings with 27 whiffs. 

Floyd has pitched 92 innings the last three seasons when dodging three major surgeries: with the Chicago White Sox in 2013 he underwent Tommy John surgery after five starts, the next year he fractured the olecranon in his right elbow with the Atlanta Braves and last year with the Indians he suffered another fracture to the same elbow.

The Jays are preparing to play seven months -- as they did a year ago from opening day April 6 at Yankee Stadium until they were eliminated in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium on Oct. 23. Just as they should be with this offence.

Can Sanchez handle more than say a 10% bump from his previous high to 146 innings? He pitched 109 2/3 last year. That includes his time in the rotation, his rehab, the bullpen and post-season.

We’re told that the front office is worried about Sanchez, who added roughly 20 pounds this off season, getting injured.

The Jays have been down that road before losing three starters in a span of four games in five days in 2012:

_ Brandon Morrow left with a strained oblique after one hitter and six pitches against the Washington Nationals June 11. 

_ Kyle Drabek departed after 4 1/3 innings and 83 pitches against the Nationals needing a second Tommy John surgery June 13.

_ Drew Hutchison faced three hitters and threw 12 pitches facing the Philadelphia Phillies June 15, requiring Tommy John.

A grand total of 15 outs recorded by the three starters, expected to get roughly 21 outs each. Hutchison made 50 starts the last two seasons after missing a year but could head to triple-A Buffalo. Morrow made 24 before leaving after 2014 and Drabek has never made another start. 

Sanchez had 11 starts last year before his lat injury. He was handled with kid gloves at class-A Lansing, sharing first-half starts with Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani.     

What do the Jays do? Keep Sanchez’s healthy so he’s ready to be a key performer next season -- when likely Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are facing the Jays rather than playing for them? Or run him out every five days as they attempt to win?

“All I know is that Sanchez could start opening day for us,” said an NL scout, “plus about six other teams I know.”

And Aaron Sanchez should be in the starting rotation of Your 2016 Toronto Blue Jays.