As Sanchez dilemma lingers, Blue Jays’ hunt for pitching help continues

Aaron Sanchez went seven innings of shut out baseball en route to his 10th straight win as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the San Diego Padres 4-2.

TORONTO – Intact as designed for the first time this season after Jose Bautista’s activation from the disabled list, the Toronto Blue Jays are feeling rather good about their group of position players ahead of the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

For good reason, too, as the depth of their batting order shone through during a 4-2 victory over San Diego Padres on Monday night. A triple by Michael Saunders and fly ball from Troy Tulowitzki opened the scoring in the fourth while doubles by Kevin Pillar and Devon Travis ahead of a Josh Donaldson single extended their margin in the fifth. Pillar added an RBI double to pile on in the eighth.

The way things set up, there’s really no break.

"We definitely like this lineup, there’s no doubt about that," manager John Gibbons said before the game. "It’s a good lineup. I don’t know what you could do to improve it, to be honest with you. Maybe there is somebody, but it would have to be a big-impact guy, I would think.

"Everybody needs pitching. You can always use some reinforcements."

That holds especially true given the lingering dilemma with Aaron Sanchez facing the Blue Jays – who improved to 56-44 before a crowd of 41,483 that pushed them past the 2-million mark in attendance in the fewest amount of games, 51, since 1995.

Sanchez threw seven shutout innings of three-hit ball against the Padres, leaving him one inning short of the career-high 133.1 he tossed in 2014. History in regards to pitchers his age suggest that there is danger in increasing his previous workload by the number of innings he’s on pace to throw.

The 24-year-old is also 11-1 with a 2.72 earned-run average, a total weapon on the mound, which complicates matters. Even more difficult is that there’s no way to be certain about what’s best for Sanchez, and keeping him healthy is of paramount importance.

"You’ve got to look long-term with this, I’m not just here to pitch in 2016, I’m here to pitch for five, six, seven – however long it is," said Sanchez. "That’s the situation that’s being talked about. You’ve got to understand what’s best for me down the road, there’s no perfect science to this. You see what’s going on with (Matt) Harvey and guys like that, and you don’t want to follow into a scenario like that. It’s so much the not knowing, I guess you can say. I’m going to continue to work hard and work on getting better in between every five days. And when that time is to come where we figure out what we’re going to do, then that’s when I’ll worry about it."

The plan back in the spring was to pull Sanchez from the rotation to pitch in relief sometime around the end of July to early August to keep the workload increase reasonable. But between now and then, he’s also become far more indispensable. He’s having a Cy-Young-calibre season.

"He’s putting himself in the elite class in baseball at a young age," Gibbons said after the game, while before it, musing about potential pre-deadline adds, he noted that "if Sanchez ends up (in the bullpen), that’d be a big plus down there, but it would be a big minus in the rotation."

So the hunt for pitching help continues and in an ideal world, the Blue Jays can find a starter to make the potential transition less painful, one partially compensated for by the way Sanchez would strengthen the bullpen’s back end.

Bo Schultz, the emerging relief arm pitching his way into a bigger role, surrendered a monster two-run homer in the ninth to Alex Dickerson, a 446-foot rocket into the upper deck at Rogers Centre. Roberto Osuna then recorded the final two outs for his 21st save.

Along with Jason Grilli and Brett Cecil, the Blue Jays have the makings of a strong group. It could be stronger, too.

The Padres, of course, make an ideal opponent at the moment given the way they are intent on selling off assets, and how the Blue Jays have been in frequent contact with them. Melvin Upton Jr., didn’t play for a second straight day on Monday night, and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported on Tuesday morning that the two teams have agreed to a trade for the outfielder.

Andrew Cashner starts Tuesday and the Blue Jays have scouted him, and they’re also believed to have some interest in the injured Tyson Ross, who’s working toward a mid-August return. Really, though, they’re exploring every possible avenue, trying to find the right value and fit, armed with enough prospect capital to get a deal done, but not the fattest stash of chips at the table.

What should they do?

"We have a great team," said Bautista. "I don’t see the necessity to do anything."

And the lineup is finally together, and it can be every bit the force it was last season.

"When you have a deep lineup there are no easy outs and pitchers might have their good stuff early but the second, third time around, we’re going to make adjustments," said Pillar. "I still think guys are a little off coming back from the all-star break and a couple of off-days, guys are trying to get their rhythm and timing back … but when you have a lineup this deep it takes the pressure off one guy."

The key pressure point on the Blue Jays at this moment is to make the right call on Sanchez, ensuring that in riding his dominance right now, they don’t negatively affect his ability to dominate in the future, too.

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