TORONTO — It was hard to ignore the red flags during Aaron Sanchez’s outing Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles. His fastball, normally a 96-mph offering, was averaging 94-mph on the night. His curveball was down from 80 to 78. His change-up from 90 to 88.
Normally a groundball machine who allowed only 15 home runs across 30 starts last season, Sanchez gave up three long balls on Friday alone and allowed eight fly balls in play versus six on the ground. Two of the homers came in the fifth inning off curveballs, and the 24-year-old shied away from the pitch from that point forward, saying after the game—with his hands never leaving his pockets—that he “just wasn’t executing the pitch, really.”
Well, now we know why. A blister on the middle finger of Sanchez’s right hand that bothered him during spring training has yet to subside, and he’ll now take a trip to the 10-day disabled list to try to get over it.
“I can’t keep altering my mechanics and putting my other body parts in jeopardy for something that’s so little. I need to get this thing knocked out,” Sanchez said. “It’s something that’s been lingering for a little bit now.”
The issue appears to lie with Sanchez’s fingernail, which has caused blisters in the past. He’s experimented with various remedies including filing down the nail, letting it grow, and removing corners – all to no avail. He’s also tried affecting the skin in the area, both toughening it up and softening it, again with no luck.
Sanchez’s blister has been an on-going concern for the club, who have been consulting with numerous hand specialists over the past week to determine a best course of action. Sanchez will now go see one of those hand specialists in person this week in Kansas City and work towards finding new ways to attack the ailment. One option being considered is removing a portion of the fingernail in order to alleviate pressure on the area.
“Hopefully there’s a bit more information we can gather with them seeing it in person instead of just in pictures,” Sanchez said. “We don’t really know when it comes, how it comes, why it’s coming. This is an opportunity to hopefully figure it all out.”
While pitching through the blister, Sanchez has been compensating for the pain by adjusting his mechanics, something that’s left the rest of his body far more sore following games than it normally is. That response has concerned the Blue Jays, and is a primary reason why Sanchez is heading to the disabled list.
“The finger, it’s one of the most important things for me in terms of feel, in terms of command,” Sanchez said. “And I’m doing other things because the pressure on my finger is to the point where I can’t even throw the ball. … If I push this thing any longer I’m at risk of injuring other parts of my body. It’s not smart.”
The toughest pitch on Sanchez’s finger is his curveball, which requires him to snap down on the seam of the baseball with his blister-affected middle finger. It’s a crucial pitch – he used it 17 per cent of the time last season when he led the American League in ERA and opposition batters hit just .145 against it. Without the curveball, Sanchez’s primary offerings become less effective.
Sanchez has been staying away from the pitch during his bullpen sessions between starts in order to let the blister heal. But as soon as he throws three or four curveballs during a game, the area quickly gets irritated.
“And then it starts affecting my sinker and my other pitches,” Sanchez said. “So, I can’t keep going out there and faking like I’m in there. If I don’t feel at my best, you’re not going to get the best me. So, it’s just not worth it for me and it’s not worth it for the team.”
The DL stint is retroactive to April 15, meaning Sanchez will be eligible to return on April 25 for the opener of the Blue Jays’ three-game series in St. Louis. Until Sanchez’s finger is evaluated by specialists, it’s unclear how realistic that may be.
Sanchez was scheduled to start Thursday against the Boston Red Sox, but with an off-day Monday, it’s possible the Blue Jays could continue to roll their other four starters through the week and not need a replacement for that game. The next time the club will need a fifth starter is likely Saturday vs. the Los Angeles Angels.
Left-hander Matt Dermody was called up from triple-A Buffalo Sunday to take Sanchez’s spot on the roster. He’s made one start for Buffalo this season and was especially strong in a relief outing last Wednesday when he struck out all five batters he faced. Some options to take Sanchez’s place in the rotation are Bisons starters Mat Latos, T.J. House and Casey Lawrence.