TORONTO — Aaron Sanchez’s return from the disabled list lasted only 13 pitches Sunday, as the Blue Jays right-hander was lifted from his start after one inning with a split nail on his right middle finger.
"I looked down and it was bleeding," Sanchez said. "We really didn’t know coming into today that this was going to be an issue. I think once you get into game mode and game speed, pressure on that nail starts to disperse to certain areas and maybe it wasn’t strong enough. Honestly, we don’t know. We’ll just kind of go from here now."
Sanchez was making his first start since April 14 when a persistent blister issue on the middle finger of his right hand forced him to the DL. Sanchez has been battling blisters for most of his major league career, but the issue became particularly limiting this year during spring training.
On April 17, Sanchez had an operation performed to remove a quarter of the nail on his right middle finger length-wise, which was intended to alleviate pressure on the area. After throwing a series of side sessions over the past week, Sanchez said he was confident that he was past the issue and ready to pitch again.
But something clearly wasn’t right Sunday afternoon, as Sanchez followed a first pitch strike to Rays leadoff hitter Corey Dickerson with six consecutive balls. Shortly after a mound visit from catcher Russell Martin, Sanchez re-found the zone, striking out Kevin Kiermaier and getting Evan Longoria to ground into a double play to end the inning.
But when Sanchez returned to the dugout, he threw down his glove and quickly left for the Blue Jays clubhouse with pitching coach Pete Walker. Moments later, Ryan Tepera began warming in the left field bullpen and took over for Sanchez at the start of the second inning.
"I looked down at it early, maybe after the Dickerson walk, and there was blood everywhere," Sanchez said. "I was just like, ‘get out of the inning and hopefully I can pitch through it.’ But once [Blue Jays trainers] had seen blood, they wanted to make sure it didn’t get worse.
"There was stinging underneath the nail. It was like someone grabbing your nail and ripping it out. That doesn’t feel good."
All 13 of the pitches Sanchez threw were fastballs, with his velocity sitting at 95-mph, only a tick below his career average. Sanchez says the pitch that puts the most stress on his finger is his curveball, but he didn’t get an opportunity to throw one Sunday afternoon.
The split that developed during his outing Sunday runs horizontally along the nail, an issue that neither Sanchez nor the doctor who performed his operation—Dr. Glenn Goldstein, a Kansas City based dermatologist—anticipated.
"It’s frustrating. I did everything I was supposed to do and everything I’ve done before to be ready for this start," Sanchez said. "You don’t even think about the nail splitting in a different direction. It’s just something that occurred. And now that it’s occurred, we handle it and move on."
Sanchez has been in close contact with Goldstein throughout the past several weeks, and sent him a photo of the nail split Sunday. After he left the game, Sanchez soaked and iced the finger to try to quell his swelling, and had it wrapped in white tape when he spoke to reporters Sunday evening.
Right now, it’s unclear if Sanchez will be able to make his next start or not. The Blue Jays will assess his finger in the coming days and make a decision based on Sanchez’s progress.
The 24-year-old is certainly not stranger to this routine, and has been surveying fellow pitchers looking for new ways to treat his blister issues. He recently spoke to his former minor league teammate Noah Syndergaard about similar ailments the New York Mets star has been through.
"There’s some things that we may try," Sanchez said. "I’m sure tomorrow we’ll have a better idea of what we need to do. As of right now, there’s so much trauma there. I just soaked it a little bit, make sure that the swelling in there goes down, that trauma that’s been beat up simmers down a bit. And then we’ll go from there."