In a guest appearance on Sportsnet 590 The FAN, the Hall of Fame pitcher explained his rationale and offered insight into how the Blue Jays could have handled his usage in a more efficient way if they were so concerned with a spike in innings pitched.
“Just start him a little bit later in the season [in the rotation] and let him finish the year,” Smoltz told co-hosts George Rusic and David Bastl Wednesday morning. “In other words, if you know he’s on an innings limit, then control the innings in the beginning and let him finish in a fashion like right now where he’s on a great roll.
“Look, I like this kid a lot. I know he was back and forth early on but that trend [of moving young pitchers between the bullpen and starting rotation] is dangerous in the game. Fortunately for the Blue Jays he’s been able to rise above it because of his personality and his mindset have allowed him to not be confused on who he is and what he’s trying to do. That’s how good he is.”
Smoltz, who now works as a broadcaster, understands the difficulty of transitioning into a relief role as he bounced between the starting rotation and the bullpen as a closer with the Atlanta Braves from 2002-08.
“Here’s the difference. When I did it, I had 2,000 innings when I made the transfer,” he said. “People don’t understand that’s it’s not easy to take a young pitcher with the identity of what he’s trying to become and then have the ability or make it seem it’s easier than it is to put him in the bullpen.
“Going to the bullpen and you’re not the closer has a lot more of an effect on your arm and body than people think because you don’t have a defined role. It’s not like they go in the seventh inning of every game we’re gonna get him up and get him in. When you’re a top-line starter, which I think [Sanchez] is, you got to make sure that that becomes the DNA of this player.”
The eight-time all-star acknowledged that he understands the logic of teams trying to protect their young arms, which has become a prominent trend across baseball.
“I don’t personally like it, but that’s the way baseball has gone,” Smoltz said. We’ve seen what the [New York] Mets have to go through because they were all extended beyond what they were capable of. [Tom] Glavine, [Greg] Maddux, and myself never had any of this. When we started our playoff runs we [already]) had three years prior with no pitch limit and no innings limit. It was a much different game back then…we’re in a different era. You have to deal with whatever the copycat league has promoted. We don’t prepare our young pitchers to come up and stay up and not have to shut ‘em down. I’m not a fan of that philosophy but it is what it is.”
Smoltz was aware that Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said he would have preferred Sanchez to stay in the rotation and wonders how the decision might impact the Blue Jays clubhouse.
“This is where a ball club can have some fraction a little bit at times if you let it,” he added. “They know what this kid means. They know how free and easy he’s been. They got so bogged down by a number. We all saw the Stephen Strasburg scenario and that was a number without any budging at all and you see what happened to his team and they didn’t win a playoff series. The mental thing is a big component. Washington stuck by their decision and hopefully it pays off in the future. And Toronto is hoping to do the same with Sanchez.”
The Blue Jays traded for veteran starter Francisco Liriano along with pitchers Mike Bolsinger and Scott Feldman before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline in order to provide pitching depth once Sanchez moves into a full-time relief role. He is expected to start this weekend against the Kansas City Royals, but his timeline beyond that start remains unclear.