TORONTO – Peace of mind about their injuries came to Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ in different ways, each confident about making a quick return to the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation.
For Sanchez, relief came in the form of a cringe-inducing procedure in which a quarter of the fingernail on his right middle finger was removed length-wise, aimed at alleviating the pressure that caused his troublesome blister issues.
For Happ, relief came in the form of an MRI that showed no structural damage to the ligament in his left elbow, easing fears that he’d suffered substantial damage throwing a two-seam fastball to Jonathan Schoop in the fourth inning Sunday.
It’s possible they will miss only their next scheduled outings this weekend in Anaheim against the Angels – Casey Lawrence and Mat Latos are the front-runners to fill-in – but even if they can’t make their following turns in St. Louis versus the Cardinals, their injuries don’t seem to be the calamities initially feared.
“Looking long-term it’s actually really good news compared to what it could have been and maybe what I thought it was leaning toward,” Happ said Monday, after he was placed on the 10-day disabled list. “I don’t want to go on the DL, but there’s potential for this to be just one time through the rotation, get right back after the 10 days and try to come back with a vengeance, if I can.”
The outlook is similar for Sanchez, who hopes to have finally found a resolution to the blister troubles that have plagued him since last spring. His finger split along the left side of nail during his outing Friday against Baltimore, which prevented him from effectively throwing his curveball.
After the game, he spoke with specialist Dr. Glenn Goldstein in Kansas City until 11:30 p.m., about the possibility of removing the nail. The next day Sanchez phoned a couple of pitchers who had undergone the procedure after struggling with blister troubles problems identical to his – one a retired former big-leaguer, the other a prospect in the minors.
“I was up in the air about it and when I talked to the players about the procedure, it eased my mind,” said Sanchez, who flew to Kansas City on Sunday, had the procedure done in the morning and then flew home shortly after. “They numbed the front part of the finger, lifted up the nail and it was no longer than 10 minutes, real quick, get in and get out.”
Once the skin hardens, the nail’s removal should eliminate the pressure on the hot-spot area of his finger caused by snapping off his curveball, which led to the blisters. Sanchez should have six months of relief now and if it works, he can have a follow-up procedure in which a chemical is used to prevent the nail from growing back in the affected area permanently.
He can resume throwing once his finger has healed enough for him to throw comfortably.
“There’s no timetable – I could be playing catch by Friday, I could be playing catch by Thursday, I don’t know,” said Sanchez. “The test will be when the ball is in my hand. Now that I’ve had this done I don’t want to mess it up again. I’ve been so frustrated trying to figure something out for it. Now that I got it, it kind of looks a little nasty so I don’t want it to get infected and it takes longer. I’m going off how I feel.”
Similarly, Happ plans to resume throwing in the next couple of days provided the inflammation and tightness in his elbow continues to ebb unabated.
The 34-year-old was pitching without issue when he delivered the fateful two-seamer to Schoop on his last pitch of the fourth Sunday.
“It was nothing I hadn’t done before,” Happ said. “I was trying to manipulate the ball a little bit, make it move a little bit. It just grabbed me then. It felt OK between innings, like it wasn’t feeling like it was getting too tight or anything, but then going out for the fifth it started getting worse.”
Happ threw eight more pitches before leaving the game. He hadn’t experienced such a grabbing sensation since 2010, when he strained the flexor pronator mass in his forearm.
That injury cost him nearly three months, which is why he was concerned until he saw the MRI results.
“It’s just the joint – that’s what I took from it,” said Happ. “The ligament is sound – now that I know that I can keep moving forward.”
Happ lobbied to not miss a start at all but was talked out of it by the Blue Jays medical staff. He’ll instead rest for a couple of more days before doing some throwing and, barring setbacks, follow up with a side session ahead of a possible return next Thursday in St. Louis.
“If I have to deal with a little bit going forward at least I know the elbow is sound there so I can work through that,” he said. “Hopefully there will be no discomfort but at least I know I can work through stuff without doing any more damage.”
That’s some relief for the Blue Jays, who certainly needed some.