Sanchez takes first step toward return to Blue Jays

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Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

CHICAGO – The clock on Aaron Sanchez returning this season as a starter has pretty much run out. A throwing session Saturday that “felt the most normal in terms of everything put together” is promising for the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander, but with six weeks remaining in the big-league campaign, and the minor-league season ending on Labour Day, safely building up to rejoin the rotation isn’t really possible.

So it’s essentially bullpen or bust for Sanchez, with the incentive of pushing toward a return coming both in the form of being able to contribute something this year, and in some peace of mind that he and the team have a handle on the lingering blister issues.

“At the beginning of this it was a little bit of not knowing,” Sanchez said after his catch session. “It happened my second start. The big picture was I had 30 more starts. Did I want to have to tinker with this all year? I already had to do it for 200 innings the year before. It was something that we just tried to get ahead of and it ended up right here. Through this whole process there’s things we’ve learned. There’s things we’ve learned that don’t work too. I’m hoping to say when this is all said and done that we do have the right direction in terms of what it takes to get this eliminated.”

Sanchez’s blister issues first flared up during the last week of spring training and then again during his second start of the season, leading to the first of four stints on the disabled list. He underwent a procedure to have a portion of his fingernail removed lengthwise, the nail later tore horizontally, a blood blister eventually developed underneath the nail and now the nail is back the way it started.

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He’s managed just 36 innings over eight outings, and with the Blue Jays lingering on the edge of the wild-card race, it’s easy to see how costly his absence has been. Throughout the season he’s worked relentlessly to maintain his form so he could speed up the process once his finger allowed him to throw, and the daily grind of relieving might offer a sense of whether their new approach to the blister works.

“The test could be to get the finger in there, get the finger out. In terms of starting, the longevity of 100 pitches might build it up to break it down,” he said. “If that’s the way we go, then that’s the way we go. Nobody has the right answer for this. It’s something that’s kind of come across baseball in bunches as of late. Nobody really expected it. It’s just one of those things. If I’m out there and I do throw in the bullpen and it does feel all right then we’re headed in the right direction, for sure.”

First things first, Sanchez will need to keep building up his arm through more throwing sessions, progress to long toss and then get back on to a mound for bullpen sessions that would lead, if the season isn’t over yet, to a rehab assignment in the minors.

Both he and the Blue Jays will proceed with caution.

“There were times before when I would play catch and I’d be maybe a little bit tentative right at (the) release point not knowing. Today I felt 100 times better than I ever have. I was pain free. Everything felt good, now it’s on the progression,” said Sanchez. “I’m going to take it one step at a time, not do anything out of the ordinary. However long that takes, that takes.

“I’m not going to put a timetable on it. Just taking it how I feel and find out what’s best for me.”

SHORT HOPS: Chris Rowley will start Tuesday’s opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, followed by Marcus Stroman and J.A. Happ. Nick Tepesch would be slated to start Friday, but the Blue Jays could also re-insert Joe Biagini into the rotation at home against Minnesota. … Roberto Osuna (fever) rejoined the Blue Jays on Saturday after being sent back to the hotel, but the sickness made its way through the clubhouse to Ryan Tepera, who was ordered back to his room.

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