TORONTO — When Aaron Sanchez returns to the Blue Jays sometime next week, he’ll do so as a reliever.
The 23-year-old will make a relief appearance for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons on Tuesday, and if all goes well he’ll join the Blue Jays bullpen sometime during their six-game road trip through Oakland and Seattle.
“We want to strengthen that area,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of his bullpen. “We get into positions, these close games where we get a good start—we’ve got to be able to win those games. And [Sanchez] brings some pretty good firepower.”
Sanchez debuted for the Blue Jays last season as a late-inning reliever and experienced tremendous success, pitching to a 1.09 ERA while striking out 27 over 33 innings of relief. When Casey Janssen faltered in the second half, Sanchez quickly became the Blue Jays de facto closer.
But the hard-throwing right-hander earned a starter’s role during 2015 spring training when Marcus Stroman was lost to a knee injury. Sanchez pitched well in the rotation, earning a 3.55 ERA over 11 outings and performing as one of the Blue Jays’ best starters in late May and early June before he went down to a latissimus injury.
That strain to the large muscle on the right side of Sanchez’s back has held him out of major league action for nearly two months. He was slowly working his way back to the big league club through minor league rehab outings as a starter, including the 3.1 innings of two-run ball he threw for the Bisons on July 16.
But it appears the Blue Jays’ struggles to find a consistent bullpen option in high leverage situations outside of Roberto Osuna and Bo Schultz has forced their hand yet and inspired them to return Sanchez to a relief role.
“We looked at it. You put [Sanchez] in, you’ve got him and Osuna and Schultz and the other guys—the depth is so much better,” Gibbons said. “We’ll work [Sanchez] in. We could go to either Osuna or him late, depending on the way things are looking.
“We’re not going to throw [Sanchez] right into the fire immediately,” Gibbons continued. “But we saw him do it last year.”