MILWAUKEE – As Aaron Sanchez came to terms with the fact that the middle finger on his pitching hand would force him to the disabled list for the third time this season, frustration built. This is not how he envisioned following up a 2016 breakout in which he led the American League in ERA.
At the same time, he had to acknowledge that his blister and nail problems weren’t going away. So, in an attempt to ensure that his finger heals for good, he has determined to rest for as long as it takes.
"It’s not getting any better," Sanchez said. "I can’t keep having this issue every inning and have to go check. This game’s already hard enough to have to go out there and compete.
"I’m beating myself up trying to go in there and pitch through it. It’s not doing me any good, it’s not doing the team any good."
Sanchez’s finger issues have taken many different forms this season. He first hit the disabled list because of a blister. To solve the blister problem, he had part of his fingernail removed. Upon returning from the disabled list, however, the nail cracked. That led to the second DL stint. After two weeks, Sanchez returned, but a blood blister formed underneath his nail toward the tip of his finger, and a third trip to the DL was required.
"The only thing that’s going to help it heal is not doing anything, not playing catch, just letting it heal," Sanchez said. "It kind of sucks not being able to play catch, but when I play catch it’s the last thing that hits my finger, so every single time I’m throwing the ball it’s getting hurt and hurt."
To ensure that he doesn’t require a fourth DL stint, the Blue Jays are encouraging Sanchez to rest. There’s no timeline for the right-hander to play catch, let alone pitch at the MLB level again.
"It’s time to knock it out for good," manager John Gibbons said. "If you don’t, it’ll stick around and who knows what happens."
Initially, the blister issues prevented Sanchez from throwing his curve comfortably. Now, his finger affects his two-seam fastball, a pitch he throws more than three quarters of the time.
"If it’s going to take 30 days to find an answer for the rest of my career, then so be it," Sanchez said. "I understand that our team’s kind of struggling, and I want to be out there just as much as everyone else wants me out there, but I’ve got to make sure that I’m healthy."
The Blue Jays’ rotation remains in flux because Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano are all sidelined. Happ will make a rehab start this week, though, and Liriano’s simulated game at Miller Park went well Tuesday. Next up for Liriano is a rehab start Sunday, after which he could return to the MLB level if all goes well.
Still, the Blue Jays haven’t yet determined who will start May 30, when the Cincinnati Reds are in Toronto. With only four starters on the big-league roster, they’ll likely have to turn to the minors for rotation depth.
Once Sanchez feels healthy enough to throw, there’s a good chance he’ll pitch rehab games at the minor-league level to test out his finger. But there’s no timeline for now, only the conviction that this DL stint will be his last.
"I can’t keep making two starts and going back down, making two starts and going back down," Sanchez said.
"Hopefully this is the last of it and I can just move on."