Sanchez, Dickey see benefits of off-season changes in spring debuts

41-year-old Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey talks about how good his body feels after his first start of the Spring, and after losing 12 pounds in the offseason.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – R.A. Dickey got lighter and leaner during the off-season. Aaron Sanchez got heavier and broader. Both Toronto Blue Jays pitchers drew positives from the weight adjustments in their spring debuts Wednesday, each sensing improvements to their delivery thanks to the changes in their body.

“My mechanics are much better than they were last year,” Sanchez, who went from 194 to 218 pounds, said after striking out three over two innings of one-run ball in a 4-4 tie with the Philadelphia Phillies. “What I thought was right last year wasn’t right. With the stability I’ve got through these workouts, everything just comes a lot more natural. I don’t really have to think about it.”

Dickey dropped the 12 pounds he gained after suffering a bucket tear of the meniscus in his right knee in his fourth start last year, something that was surgically repaired over the winter, and felt smoother on the mound, too.

“The lighter I am, the more I feel in control of my body. My core strength is better, it helps me stay together down the slope of the mound, so that’s my hope,” he said after throwing two innings of one-run ball with a strikeout. “(Twelve pounds) is pretty significant for me. I’ve been intentional about trying to lose weight and put on the right kind of weight in an effort to be better as a baseball player.”

The impetus for both pitchers to change their body arose from their injuries.

Sanchez strained his lat in his 11th start last year, in which he threw eight innings of shutout ball, and realized as he was recovering that he needed to make changes to his body. Though he returned as a reliever, his focus was on preparing his body to start and with the help of the same trainers Marcus Stroman used, rebuilt his upper body and his core to have better posture on the mound.

The extra strength means he no longer needs to work as hard to generate the same velocity as before. He’s more upright now at the balance point of his windup and his shoulders sit more square, meaning he doesn’t need to strain as much as he did when his shoulders slouched forward last year.

Sanchez threw some easy 98s and sat at 96 against the Phillies, surrendering a massive solo shot to Aaron Altherr on a 3-2 changeup. Work on his secondary pitches will be an area of focus as the Blue Jays try to figure out whether they’re better with him in the rotation or the bullpen.

"I felt good," he said. "I made one bad pitch all afternoon, that was a 3-2 changeup that got hit a long way. Other than that I kept the ball on the ground, got a couple of strikeouts on some off-speed, they swung over a few changeups that had good action. Obviously my fastball had tremendous life, got a couple looking, curveball was where I needed it. I felt like the only thing that could have been a little better was the consistency with my cutter. I know coming into spring training that’s something I’m working on, so I’m not going to beat myself up over it. Just try to understand where it’s at in the game and tighten things up in between starts."

Dickey, meanwhile, grinded through last season with the meniscus tear, something he had repaired early in the off-season by Dr. Burton Elrod, head physician for the Tennessee Titans. Elrod also smoothed out some spots on the bones around the tear.

The goal for Dickey, whose 200-inning steadiness is sorely needed, is to improve his mechanics so he can throw strikes more consistently, a key to his success.

"That to me is paramount," said Dickey. "That knee thing last year was tough because I couldn’t really work out and exercise the way I’d like ordinarily to do. I put on some weight and not necessarily weight that I felt good carrying. I’ve shed some of that in the hopes of really being able to be consistent."

Notes: Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski addressed a crowd of 4,643 before the spring home opener and said the city is working hard to keep the Blue Jays from moving elsewhere. … Outfield prospect Dwight Smith Jr., slid headfirst into home with the tying run in the ninth inning but his shoulder popped out and he walked off the with trainer Mike Frostad supporting his arm. Manager John Gibbons said it’s happened to him on occasion, and there was no word on the severity of the injury. … Rotation candidate Jesse Chavez threw two scoreless innings, allowing a walk with two strikeouts. … Ryan Goins hit a two-run triple and shortstop prospect Richard Urena had two hits including a double to pace the offence.