TORONTO — When he’s on, Aaron Sanchez combines a hard sinking fastball with a curve and change-up to induce ground balls and limit hard contact.
It’s a formula that has worked for extended stretches at the big-league level, and one that the Blue Jays have missed for the last two months while Sanchez recovered from a finger injury on the disabled list.
The wait for vintage Sanchez will continue a little longer, as the Phillies hit him hard in his return to action. Despite the six runs Sanchez allowed, the Blue Jays won 8-6 thanks to a bases-clearing double by Aledmys Diaz in the eighth inning.
Afterwards, Sanchez was encouraged to emerge from the start feeling healthy.
“That’s the biggest thing, just making it back,” Sanchez said. “This is what I do. I compete. It’s hard when you go out there and you don’t have the success you want, but when you’re looking at it from a different perspective of being back and not feeling any sort of restrictions in my finger (or) my hand, that’s always a positive.”
Sanchez pitched four-plus innings Saturday, his first big-league appearance since June 21, the day he tried to pitch through a contusion sustained when his right index finger got stuck in the handle of a heavy suitcase.
He made 86 pitches in his return, including 54 strikes, while reaching 96 m.p.h. on the radar gun and mixing in both his off-speed pitches.
“He felt great, which is really what we’re looking for,” manager John Gibbons said. “You can’t forget, too, it’s basically been two lost years for him. If he can build off of that one and finish the season strong, I’d be very happy. We saw some good things. He had pretty good pop on the ball.”
Big picture, all of that’s positive. That said, Sanchez tied a career high with 10 hits allowed and he also walked two. He recorded almost as many outs in the air (four) as on the ground (five). Those results suggest he’s still not at his sharpest, but he was encouraged by the outing.
“I think I pitched better than the line says,” Sanchez said. “You take the good with the bad, address what I need to work on and you’ll see me out there in five days.”
The Blue Jays got some impressive relief work once Sanchez left, including two scoreless innings from Tim Mayza, who struck out three. Jake Petricka, Joe Biagini and Ken Giles also provided scoreless relief work in the win.
Morales tied Jose Cruz Jr.’s franchise record by homering for the sixth consecutive game. Across major-league baseball, only Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals has matched that streak this season.
Though he started slowly at the plate, Morales now has 20 home runs with an .818 OPS — respectable numbers considering that the MLB-wide OPS is .728 and American League designated hitters have combined for a .781 OPS as a group.
Meanwhile, McKinney continues to show off impressive power from the left side. He hit his third homer of the week Saturday, driving home Danny Jansen with an opposite-field shot. Another rookie, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., had his hit streak end at 12 games after three hitless at bats.
It was an action-packed day for Jansen, who hit two doubles in three at bats. He also took a 98-m.p.h. fastball off of his left elbow in the eighth inning, but stayed in the game and scored on Diaz’s double. Behind the plate he prevented a stolen base attempt and worked with Sanchez for the first time.
“He’s caught guys just as good, if not better, than me,” Sanchez said of Jansen. “He’s ready. He wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t. It was more about, ‘What does he like to do, what do I like to do?’ Those are the most important questions. ‘What are his strengths, what are my strengths?’ That’s the biggest thing.”
Before Sanchez’s injury, he was starting to feel as though his fastball had the late movement required to shut down MLB lineups. He’s hopeful that Saturday’s start can be another step in that direction.
“Once I get the reps, I’ll be right back to where I need to be,” Sanchez said. “That’s the only thing that’s lacking right now.”
“To go from where he’s been to now, I’ll take that any day,” Gibbons said.