ST. LOUIS – Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons started catcher Russell Martin at third base Tuesday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, looking to squeeze as much offence as possible from a slumping lineup further depleted by an interleague series under National League rules.
Martin has 19 career appearances at third base in the major leagues, including 10 starts the most recent of which came in 2013. Over his past seven games, he’s 8-for-26 with five walks and two homers, and with Justin Smoak forced to sit for Kendrys Morales at first base with no DH, the Blue Jays didn’t want to lose his bat with Jarrod Saltalamacchia catching after a brutal night of travel.
"We have to keep his bat in the lineup," said Gibbons. "He looks great at the plate right now. Our big thing is scoring runs. There’s no doubt in my mind that he can do it. You look at that lineup, he’s probably the best athlete on that field. We’ll give it a go. If it works, we may do it again and give Salty a shot to get hot. We’ll see."
Seeing only sporadic action, Saltalamacchia is 1-for-18 with 12 strikeouts so far this season entering Tuesday’s action.
SANCHEZ ON MEND: Aaron Sanchez threw a 30-pitch side session that simulated game conditions Tuesday and a return to start Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays isn’t out of the question.
The bullpen was Sanchez’s first since undergoing a procedure that removed a quarter of the fingernail on his right middle finger, and he broke out his curveball for the first time, too. He threw with protective tape around the finger and he’ll throw without it during a planned side Friday.
Barring setbacks, he could return Sunday.
"It’s up for discussion right now," said pitching coach Pete Walker. "There’s a possibility Sunday works out. If we treat today like a start day, Friday would be his side day and potentially be available Sunday, but that’s for me and Gibby and the staff to talk about and make a decision. Ultimately it’s up to Aaron and how he feels. As long as that finger continues to heal and move in a positive direction, it’s a possibility."
Sanchez reported no issues Tuesday as he looks to move past his ongoing blister problems.
"It was a great session, we simulated two innings in the bullpen, we warmed him up like he would for a game, sat down, went back out for his first inning in the bullpen, threw 15 pitches, worked a few hitters, sat down and did it again for a second inning of work," said Walker. "So we simulated 30 pitches, game-like situations, obviously there wasn’t a hitter in there but just wanted to see how he responded. He felt good, his stuff looked really good and he felt very comfortable. So very encouraging outing.
"He was able to throw his curveball and it was sharp, it was tight and he said it felt great. Obviously a great sign and looking forward to possibly throwing another side on Friday and go from there."
SHORT HOPS: An MRI on Troy Tulowitzki’s strained right hamstring is said to have revealed no surprises, although the Blue Jays remain without a specific timeline on the star shortstop. … Lefty reliever J.P. Howell was activated from the disabled list with righty Leonel Campos optioned to triple-A Buffalo. John Gibbons said he planned to ease Howell back into action.