Aaron Sanchez was just about to step into the shower at the Triple-A baseball stadium in Lehigh, Pa., on Monday night when he received word that Gary Allenson, his manager with the Buffalo Bisons, wanted to see him in his office.
Clad only in a towel, Sanchez met with Allenson and got the message the 22-year-old had waited years to hear: Get dressed, kid – you’re going to the show.
And so began the Major League Baseball journey of the Toronto Blue Jays’ No. 1 minor-league pitching prospect, who joined the scuffling American League team in time for Tuesday night’s encounter against the Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre.
And although he had yet to throw a pitch at the Major League level, there was a sense of excitement within the Blue Jays clubhouse several hours before game time, sparked by the rookie’s arrival. That speaks volumes about the team’s fragile state of affairs these days.
“He’s the baby boy now. I’m no longer the baby,” chirped fellow rookie pitcher Marcus Stroman, all of 23 and himself not that far removed from Triple-A.
Sanchez would not get the opportunity to display his abilities Tuesday night, and was only able to play the role of a bullpen cheerleader as the Blue Jays (52-49) earned a win they desperately required – dispatching the Red Sox (47-53) 7-3 before a crowd of 29,269.
J.A. Happ (8-5) helped ground the Red Sox, who had won five straight, with a solid start, keeping Boston off the scoreboard while scattering seven hits through six innings.
Toronto carted a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning, when the Blue Jays flexed their muscle, clubbing two home runs that produced three more runs and a bit of breathing room over the Red Sox.
Jose Reyes belted a leadoff home run, his eighth of the season, and then Dioner Navarro chipped in with a two-run shot, his seventh on the year.
David Ortiz accounted for the first Boston run, belting a solo home run in the eight inning. Stephen Drew hit a two-run blast in the ninth.
Sanchez is a lanky, 6-foot-4, 200-pound, doe-eyed kid who wears a size-13 shoe and whose youthful appearance will require him to produce an age of majority card at licensed establishments for years to come.
He was Toronto’s No. 1 draft pick, the 34th player selected overall, in the 2010 MLB draft, when he was a high-school student out of Barstow, Calif.
He also has a 96-mile-per-hour fastball, which is one of the reasons the Blue Jays have hastened his ascent from the minor leagues. The other is desperate need from a faltering, formerly first-place outfit that stumbled into Tuesday’s game having lost 10 of its past 14 games, including an embarrassing 14-1 verdict to the Red Sox on Monday in the first of a four-game series.
The Jays’ bullpen in disarray, on Tuesday the Blue Jays elected to summon Sanchez from Buffalo for some help. A starter by trade, Sanchez was moved to the Bisons’ bullpen last week in anticipation that Toronto would need him.
And Toronto manager John Gibbons said Sanchez would not be just a token presence down there. “He’s here to help us, not just here to be here,” Gibbons said before Tuesday’s game. “He’ll fill a role. You guys all know what kind of arm he’s got. It’s his first time here, but we plan on using him. We’re not going to baby him, but we’ll keep an eye on him.”
Along with Sanchez, the Blue Jays also elevated from Buffalo right-handed pitcher Esmil Rogers and infielder Ryan Goins; Goins got the start at second base Tuesday night.
To make room, the Blue Jays optioned outfielder Darin Mastroianni and backup catcher Erik Kratz to Buffalo, while Brad Mills has been designated for assignment.
Sanchez said that, right now, it doesn’t matter that the Blue Jays plan to use him out of the bullpen.
“I think once it gets to the point where it’s like, the phone rings and you’ve got to get up, that might be a bit different,” he said when asked about transitioning from starter to reliever. “But nothing’s really different – still pitching, still 60 feet, six inches.”
The Blue Jays mixed things up a bit for Boston, starting Goins at second and moving Munenori Kawasaki over to third in place of the lumbering Juan Francisco, who moved across the field to first.
Anthony Gose got the start in centre field in place of Colby Rasmus.