Sanchez injury raises questions for Blue Jays

Matt Harvey returned to form with seven shutout innings and an RBI double as the New York Mets to a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

NEW YORK – The one-start breather for Aaron Sanchez that stretched to two outings Tuesday is in all but officially headed to three games for the young right-hander, and that raises some interesting questions for the Toronto Blue Jays.

What will get they get from Scott Copeland – who allowed three runs on eight hits, none of them cheapies, over four innings of a 3-2 loss to Matt Harvey and the New York Mets – against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday? And if for some reason the Blue Jays need another starter, who would they turn to?

There are no certain answers on either front, but one thing that sounded firm is Copeland will get the ball if Sanchez isn’t a go Sunday.

"I don’t think it’s fair to the kid in two outings to make a judgment on him," manager John Gibbons said of Copeland. "He was really good in that first one. Tonight the ball was up a little bit. That happens to them all every now and then, but he’s competing, that’s what we want out of him.

"I think he’ll be fine his next go around."

By no means did Copeland bury the Blue Jays in this one, but a 3-0 hole against a resurgent Harvey – who allowed only four hits over seven very good innings – made for some heavy lifting.

Despite that the Blue Jays were poised to pull this one out against a shaky bullpen until Kevin Pillar’s base-running blunder undermined the makings of a big eighth inning.

Pillar and Ryan Goins reached to open the frame against reliever Carlos Torres and things really looked set to roll when Jose Reyes singled, too. But Pillar, running with his head down, didn’t notice that Goins was held by third base coach Tim Leiper (subbing for Luis Rivera, who was attending his son’s graduation), and was dead meat at third.

"I made a mistake," Pillar said. "Just being aggressive. I happened to see that play from an outfielder’s perspective, not in a base-running perspective, just knowing what I’m going to do as an outfielder in that situation, and not throw the ball home, not let the tying run get to second base. I made a mistake by not picking up the third base coach. I ran the scenario by my head before it happened, and I made a mistake by not picking up the coach."

That out proved especially costly when Josh Donaldson followed with a walk that would have otherwise scored a run. Instead, it loaded the bases, Jose Bautista’s sacrifice fly and Edwin Encarnacion’s RBI single made it a one-run game, but Bobby Parnell struck out Chris Colabello to escape the frame before wrapping things up in the ninth.

"The game went out right there when we really had them on the ropes," lamented Gibbons. "It’s over with, we’ll move on."

Added Pillar: "It’s as embarrassing as it gets. We’re paid to go out there and perform and not make dumb mistakes, especially late in the game. I wanted to do something to help the team win a game, when you’re facing a guy like Harvey, you try to keep it close, get to the bullpen and we were in a situation where we had the heart of our order up, and we’re better off taking our chances with them hitting than trying to get extra bases."

The blunder wasn’t the only one on the bases for the Blue Jays.

There was promise in the second inning when Encarnacion led off with a double, but he was thrown out at third unwisely trying to advance on Colabello’s grounder to short.

Harvey cruised from then on in bouncing back from a six-inning, seven-run whacking from San Francisco, largely unthreatened until he stranded Bautista’s two-out triple in the sixth.

"We felt good when he came out of the game," Gibbons said of Harvey. "We knew their bullpen was beat up, too. We made a run at it, just came up short."

Copeland rolled over the Miami Marlins his last time out, holding them to a run over seven strong innings, but surrendered an RBI single to Ruben Tejada and a run-scoring double to Harvey in the bottom of the second. A Wilmer Flores sacrifice fly in the third made it 3-0.

It could have been worse given that he surrendered eight hits, and was a batter away from being replaced in the third. But though he was up in the zone, he recovered to deliver a clean fourth before getting pulled for a pinch-hitter.

"Just got to get down through the ball, kind of pulling off a little bit, got to stay through it more," said Copeland. "I was pounding the zone again, I didn’t walk anybody, so that’s a plus. …

"In my side I’ll work more on getting over top of the ball instead of flying open."

That work should prep him for the Orioles as Sanchez, on the 15-day DL with a mild lat strain, is only expected to resume throwing in the next day or two. If he’s pain free relatively soon, he can quickly move up to some side sessions and ideally avoid the need for a rehab start.

If, Copeland has a tough time with the Orioles, or Sanchez requires a longer recuperation period, the Blue Jays will need to examine all their options, limited as they might be right now.

Asked about potential candidates should they need another starter for some reason, Gibbons replied, "you hope Daniel Norris is one of them."

"It’s been hit or miss for him to this point, he’s had some good ones and then he’s scuffled a little bit," continued Gibbons. "He’s the top guy. You’ve got (Felix) Doubront down there pitching, he’s doing OK, he’s done it before. You can get into the roster spot thing, too. It’s never stopped us before, but it’s always a concern."

The problem with Doubront is that he’s out of options, so if he comes up he needs to stay up unless the Blue Jays are willing to risk losing him on waivers. Given their lack of depth, that would be unwise.

As for Norris, the Blue Jays will want to make sure he’s in a position to offer more consistency than he did during his last stint, and he’s probably not at that point yet.

A name to watch is left-hander Matt Boyd, who dominated at double-A before getting promoted to triple-A Buffalo over the weekend, and might be a real consideration with a good month or six weeks, but not yet.

As for whether Gibbons expects Sanchez to pitch Sunday, "I would probably say no," he said. "He’s had too much down time, he’s got work back into it. We’ve got to handle this kid right, you know?"

They so very much do, because they can’t come close to replacing his production, and there are so few options behind what they’ve currently got.

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