Aaron Sanchez offers glimpse of what he can be when healthy

Rowdy Tellez had a hit in his Major League debut and the Blue Jays piled on the runs early to back Aaron Sanchez, beating the Rays 10-3.

TORONTO – It was just two years ago that Aaron Sanchez led the American League in ERA and started 30 games. At some point, the Toronto Blue Jays would love to see Sanchez return to that level consistently.

Realistically, though, they can’t count on that consistency just yet. Sanchez returned from the disabled list less than two weeks ago, and has struggled with command at times since. With that in mind, the Blue Jays aren’t expecting the 26-year-old to dominate down the stretch; they’re simply hoping for Sanchez to keep taking the ball.

“You like to see good results, but you just want him to finish healthy,” manager John Gibbons said. “To me that would be a good thing. He could go into the off-season knowing ‘I got through this, hopefully it’s behind me.’ Really, the more he’s out there the better he’s going to be.”

On Wednesday Sanchez did more than just take the ball for the Blue Jays in a 10-3 win over the Rays at Rogers Centre. He matched a season high with eight strikeouts, pitched six innings for the first time since June 15, and reached 95.1 m.p.h. on the radar gun.

“A great night for me, for sure,” said Sanchez after crediting his teammates for building an early lead. “My off-speed was where it needed to be.”

Plus, Sanchez seemed better able to keep his pitches in the strike zone when necessary. His command wasn’t sharp in his first two starts back, and Gibbons believes that’s related to the finger contusion that sidelined him for much of the summer.

But the right-hander showed improvement Wednesday, when he made a deliberate effort to attack. Of the 26 hitters he faced, only two walked.

“I’ve been throwing way too many balls my last two starts,” Sanchez said. “Our game plan going into today was just fill up the strike zone.”

With each passing week, Sanchez is re-gaining the feel for his pitches. Plus, he’s building familiarity with Danny Jansen, who was behind the plate again Wednesday.

Of course Sanchez’s outing was just part of the reason the Blue Jays won. Offensively they had contributions up and down the batting order from veterans and rookies alike. They combined for 16 hits, including two home runs.

Perhaps the most memorable hit came from a player who wasn’t even in the starting lineup. Pinch hitting in the sixth inning, Rowdy Tellez doubled to right-centre field on the first pitch he saw, scoring Aledmys Diaz.

“It’s nothing short of amazing to get your first career big-league hit, so I’m still just in shock at what’s going on,” said an emotional Tellez.

Tellez, whose mother passed away last month, had been pinch-hitting for Jonathan Davis, who struck out three times while making his major league debut.

Meanwhile, fellow rookie Billy McKinney continued his offensive production with a walk and a solo home run. The Blue Jays’ other homer came from Diaz, who now has 17 on the season.

Multi-hit games from Devon Travis, Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. added to the offensive onslaught for the Blue Jays, who take one of three from the Rays before welcoming the Cleveland Indians, in town to begin a four game series in Toronto Thursday without the rehabbing Josh Donaldson.

That much offensive production’s always welcome, and it’s especially significant when so much of it comes from players just beginning their Blue Jays careers. Still, the biggest development of all might be Sanchez’s return to form. If the health of his finger holds up, outings like this could become the norm again.

“Then I think he’ll take right off,” Gibbons said. “We’ve all seen what he’s capable of (and) he’s still a young, big, strong kid.”

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