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Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium.Reinhold Matay

It's been 18 months since Aaron Sanchez last pitched a game against the New York Yankees.

As far as the Blue Jays right-hander is concerned, there may be some positives to that long layoff.

"They haven't seen me in awhile, so that's a plus if you want to take it for what it's worth," said Sanchez, who will start the second game of the regular season next Friday against the division rivals at Rogers Centre.

"But I'm not different. I'm not different than I was at 17 years old. I'm going to go out there and compete and at the end of the day, whoever's on top will come out with the win."

Sanchez capped his pre-season with four scoreless innings Saturday morning against non-MLB talent from the Philadelphia Phillies organization at Bobby Mattick Training Center, Toronto's minor league spring training complex.

Wearing white baseball pants — the rest of his teammates wore grey — Sanchez threw 55 pitches and 36 for strikes in front of a crowd of a few dozen, including about 20 Blue Jays minor leaguers who shuffled over to enjoy the show.

It was a solid way to end spring training for Sanchez, who was limited to only 36 innings in 2017 with recurring blister issues on his finger.

Sanchez ended the year 1-3 with a 4.25 earned-run average, a far cry from a successful 2016 campaign that saw him lead the American League in ERA (3.00) and win percentage (.882).

The 25-year-old last pitched against the Yankees on Sept. 26, 2016 in New York, going seven innings and allowing three runs in a 7-6 Blue Jays loss.

He won't be facing that same team next week, though.

The Yankees solidified themselves as frontrunners in the already tough AL East this off-season, acquiring reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton to bolster a lineup that already included 2017 AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge. Stanton led the league in homers last season with 59 while Judge topped the AL with 52.

"I think I'm going to be excited," Sanchez said of how it will feel to get back on the mound. "I'm nervous before every game, that's just kind of how I operate. I think it's just making sure I'm prepared, but once those lights turn on and he says 'Play Ball,' it goes back to everything I've done my whole life and that's compete and play baseball.

"It's something I love to do. Hopefully I can keep those (nerves) in check for the first six outs, or whatever I need to, to get it kind of under control and then just go out there to do my thing."

With most of the major league roster travelling to Tampa Saturday for a spring training game against the Yankees, the team opted to pitch Sanchez on the minor league side rather than have him face the New York lineup twice in a week.

Newly signed reliever Seung-hwan Oh of South Korea pitched an inning after Sanchez in his second appearance with the Blue Jays since acquiring his work visa on Tuesday. Russell Martin was also at Bobby Mattick to catch Sanchez.

"That's why I wanted to be sharp, so (Martin) got a fair look at what I would be like in six days," Sanchez said.

Manager John Gibbons has been encouraged by a healthy Sanchez this pre-season.

"It's huge for the team, obviously," Gibbons said earlier this week. "For him personally it answers a lot of questions. He had to have come into spring training (thinking) 'OK, I'm going back at it.' He had that year and his finger has been fine. He's a key guy to this organization and he will be for a lot of years.

"We all think he's got a chance to be one of the better ones in baseball for who knows how long. He's got that ability. He's still a young kid ... The sky's the limit."

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