OAKLAND, Calif. – Aaron Sanchez took a break from throwing Wednesday, the rehab program for his troublesome right middle finger calling for a series of towel exercises off the mound as a way to keep his delivery sharp. A couple days of work – 25 tosses at 75 feet and 10 more at 90 feet each time – have the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander getting closer to throwing an actual ball, rather than a towel, off a mound, maybe even as soon as the end of this week or early next.
No one is going to let Sanchez push it, as he’s made rapid progress in recent days, the nail and blood blister issues in his finger that pushed him to the disabled list a third time after his last start May 19 in Baltimore on the verge of becoming a thing of the past.
"Oh my God, tremendous," he said of the difference in his finger from then to now during an interview. "There’s nothing there, I’m finally able to get extension, finally able to get that natural sink every single time instead of forcing it. That was one of the issues that was bothering me before, I felt like it was taking a lot out of me to get that because the ball couldn’t come off my fingertips. That was right where the blister was at.
"Definitely huge progress in terms of how I feel and action on my pitches and the consistency of feeling free and loose. Before it was a struggle because I was so tentative on that fingertip or fingernail."
Part of the thinking in giving Sanchez a break Wednesday was to give the fingertip a chance to do some healing after consecutive days of throwing, just in case there was any irritation in the area.
Caution is more than warranted in his season of stops and starts, the grind really beginning for the 25-year-old at the end of spring training when a blister burst during a March 27 outing. The issue resurfaced during an April 14 start against the Orioles and in the aftermath he decided to have a procedure that removed a third of his fingernail length-wise as a way to alleviate the pressure causing blisters.
He returned to start April 30 but lasted only one inning, the corner of the nail meeting the newly exposed skin from the procedure splitting apart. Another quick rehab outing led to starts versus the Mariners on May 14 and at the Orioles May 19, when a blood blister emerged at the tip of his finger.
The Blue Jays now believe that blood blister is what caused the previous nail split, too, and they decided to shut Sanchez down until it was fully gone.
"Going out there pitching, thinking it will callous up is why I went out there and pitched against Seattle, and pitched against Baltimore," said Sanchez. "When I realized my finger wasn’t getting any better, I was like, yo, I need to get this thing fixed, I need to get this healed because I can’t keep chasing it all year. I’m out there struggling to even throw a heater and baseball is about fastball command. And if I can’t command that, I’m already defeated in a sense."
A corner was turned in the past week, and he threw for the first time since Baltimore on Monday.
"Everything is healed, it’s like a brand new nail," said Sanchez.
A return date depends on whether the finger continues to respond the way it has. He’ll need a few bullpens, at least, before he can go out for some rehabilitation starts. Manager John Gibbons has estimated that Sanchez will need at least a couple.
In the interim Sanchez is finding ways to keep himself in shape, to milk any sort of gain he can from workouts. The towel drill comes in handy there, allowing him to find and fix any flaws in his mechanics with the target of a seamless return to the mound when it happens.
"Just making sure I’m staying in my delivery, making sure everything in my delivery is where I want it to be because when I come back, it’s go time," Sanchez explained. "It’s been a rough few months here in terms of that, so when I get back to playing there’s no turning back. I’ve got to be ready to go, ready to do what I came to do this year."