Blue Jays’ Aaron Sanchez says he’s ready to go after final spring start

Yangervis Solarte had four hits and two RBIs but the Blue Jays fell to the Yankees’ fire power, losing 13-6.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays engaged in a little baseball subterfuge Saturday, sending Aaron Sanchez to make his final spring tune-up against a Philadelphia Phillies minor-league team rather than the New York Yankees, the team the right-hander will face in the regular season’s second game.

Pitching to Russell Martin for the first time this spring, Sanchez cruised through four shutout innings at the Bobby Mattick Training Center, allowing three hits, one of them a blooper that should have been caught, with three strikeouts on 55 pitches, 36 of them strikes.

Afterwards, the 25-year-old upon whom so much hinges in 2018 proclaimed himself ready for the season following a camp in which any lingering concerns about the troubled middle finger that caused so much anguish last year faded to the background.

"I knew what I needed to accomplish when I came into spring training, to be ready for the year because I missed so much time last year," said Sanchez. "There was a lot of emphasis on a lot of things this year and I felt like I accomplished it. If I didn’t accomplish the things I wanted to, I’m super close. It’s what I do, man. I come here to work. I know what I need to do. I know what I need to do to get better."

One of those things is maintaining his pace and not rushing through his delivery, something he did through his first inning Saturday. He allowed a line drive single and the bloop hit to begin his outing but then settled down to induce a lazy fly ball to centre field before getting a 5-4-3 double play.

From that point forward he settled, with only a groundball single sneaking through the right side.

"My stuff kind of flattened out a little bit, it wasn’t the same sink that I usually have," Sanchez said of what happens when he’s too quick, the way he was in the first inning. "A little more lateral through the zone than it is up and down through the zone. Stays on a plane more, stays in the hitting zone a little more. Still getting movement, just not the movement that I like. I’m not going to miss barrels with the movement I had in the first inning."

Sanchez’s start next Friday will be his first in the big-leagues since July 19, when he allowed five runs, three earned in four innings at Boston. That was his eighth and final start of a miserable 2017 campaign during which he logged just 36 innings a year after winning the American League ERA title.

"I’m going to be excited," he said. "I’m nervous before every game, that’s just kind of how I operate. I think it’s just making sure I’m prepared. But I think once those lights turn on and (the umpire) says, ‘Play Ball,’ it goes back to everything I’ve done my whole life and that’s compete and play baseball. It’s something I love to do. Hopefully I can keep those in checks for the first six outs, or whatever I need to, to get it kind of under control and then just go out there to do my thing."

Sanchez hasn’t faced the Yankees since Sept. 6, 2016 and trying to maintain some sort of mystery was why he was switched off the Blue Jays’ Grapefruit League game at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, where New York won 13-6.

Seung-hwan Oh followed Sanchez in the minor-league game, as well, extending the gamesmanship.

"I don’t know," Sanchez replied when asked if it might make a difference. "They haven’t seen me in a while, so that’s a plus if you want to take it for what it’s worth. I’m not different, I’m not different than I was at 17-years-old. I’m going to go out there and compete and at the end of the day, whoever’s on top will come out with the win."

Livestream the Toronto Blue Jays on the most popular devices. Plus, get over 150 marquee MLB matchups, the Home Run Derby, All-Star Game and Postseason.

Here are some other Blue Jays talking points from Saturday:

• Oh was so efficient in his inning of work, his second appearance since sorting out his work visa, that when he ripped through the Phillies on two three-pitch strikeouts and a soft liner, the coaching staff told the players to stay on the field for an extra out. The right-handed set-up man then collected a third strikeout, finishing with 19 pitches, 14 strikes. "Facing more hitters, obviously important, but I wanted to focus more on how my fastball is coming out and my off-speed is coming out," Oh said through interpreter Eugene Koo. "Whenever I pitched the ball, it wasn’t coming up too high in the zone. So I was happy with that."

• One Blue Jays minor-leaguer upon returning to the dugout after Oh’s inning: "I don’t know how the kids were seeing that (stuff). That (stuff) was nasty."

Josh Donaldson was scheduled to play against the Yankees but with the third baseman not going to Montreal for the exhibition games at Olympic Stadium versus the St. Louis Cardinals, the Blue Jays decided to push him back a day. Devon Travis will also be staying back in Florida. "Keep them off the turf," manager John Gibbons said of the decision. "They’re going to stay back here so I just pushed them back a day, we’ll stretch them out (Sunday) and then they’ll play a couple of games down here. That was it."

Randal Grichuk played seven innings in right field versus the Yankees during his third game in four days as he tries to push through a condensed spring training after missing time with a ribcage issue. He flexed a little muscle, too, with a long two-run homer to right-centre field in the first. The drive was his first of the spring and the latest indicator he’ll be ready for opening day. "Grichuk looks good," said Gibbons. "We didn’t know what to expect with that long layoff but I thought he swung the bat pretty good the other night in Bradenton and then again today. The key is he feels good. I think he’ll be ready to go."

Yangervis Solarte broke out with a four-hit game, doubling in the first inning and then adding three singles, including one that cashed in a pair of runs in the seventh. The Blue Jays are counting on him to provide some offensive impact to a lineup that needs his production.

Kevin Pillar picked up two more hits, including his second homer, to continue a torrid spring in which he’s now batting .432 in 44 at-bats.

• The Blue Jays released veteran left-hander Craig Breslow, who was in camp on a minor-league deal. They also outrighted lefty Matt Dermody, designated for assignment when righty Sam Gaviglio was acquired from the Royals earlier this week, to triple-A Buffalo.

• Reliever Carlos Ramirez made his first Grapefruit League appearance since Feb. 27 with an inning of work against the Yankees, allowing a mammoth home run to Giancarlo Stanton that slammed off an ad high-up on the left-field scoreboard. The right-hander had been dealing with a shoulder issue but sat 92-93 during an eventful outing that also included a Didi Gregorius grounder off his foot.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.