Blue Jays fans would have been wise to enjoy Aaron Sanchez on the mound while he was making his 23rd start of the season against the pesky Houston Astros at the Rogers Centre on Saturday.
Depending on how you decipher the cryptic comments from Toronto manager John Gibbons about Sanchez’s upcoming workload, the young right-hander might not be returning to the mound anytime soon.
It has nothing to do with his current health but everything to do with preserving it.
The 24-year-old displayed that he still has plenty of spring in his step, mostly foiling the Astros over seven strong innings to help pace the Blue Jays (66-51) to a 4-2 comeback victory over the Astros before another soldout crowd of over 47,000.
Catcher Russell Martin stroked the key hit, a three-run home run to centre in the sixth inning that erased a 2-1 Houston advantage.
Martin also threw out Houston’s Jose Altuve attempted steal with a perfect peg to second in the third inning, the second straight game he has managed to strike down the Astros’ speed merchant.
“Russ had a huge day on a day we needed him,” Gibbons said.
With a couple of off days in the coming two weeks, along with a recently instituted six-man rotation (from the usual five), the Blue Jays have plenty of options on how to organize things in order to ensure additional rest for Sanchez.
Sanchez is already at a single-season career high with 152.1 innings pitched and the Blue Jays want to ensure he will still have enough in the tank for a post-season run, provided they get there.
Gibbons reiterated that the Blue Jays intend to bump Sanchez from a scheduled start or two down the road, but is being coy when revealing when and how that is to happen.
“We’re not exactly sure yet, we’re close,” Gibbons said.
When asked if the team is planning on skipping a Sanchez start one time through the rotation or just shuffle the deck to ensure he gets an added day off or two, the manager was equally evasive.
“To be determined,” Gibbons said.
Does Sanchez even know?
“Maybe, maybe not,” came the response.
It looked like it might be a short outing for Sanchez on Saturday as he was rocked hard in the first inning by the Astros, surrendering three hits including two doubles, all to right field.
The second, by Carlos Correa into right field, gave the Astros a 2-0 lead.
After that, Sanchez settled in and allowed just two more hits over the next five innings as the Blue Jays battled to get back into it.
A solo home-run shot in Toronto’s half of the first inning by Josh Donaldson helped, trimming the Astros’ lead to 2-1. For the third baseman it was his 28th of the season.
The Blue Jays chased Collin McHugh, the Houston starter, in the sixth inning after he surrendered a one-out hit to Edwin Encarnacion and a nice bunt single to Michael Saunders.
Houston manager A.J. Hinch elected to go with reliever James Hoyt after that but the move backfired when Martin lifted a towering two-out poke to centre-field for his ninth home run of the season.
That big blow brought in three runs and provided the Blue Jays with a 4-2 lead.
With the Blue Jays heading into the eighth inning with the lead, you knew Sanchez’s day was done.
The eighth is Jason Grilli territory and Sanchez was though with another credible outing, allowing just the two Houston runs off five hits while striking out six over seven innings to improve to 12-2 on the year.
It marked the 13th time this season Sanchez has worked at least seven innings in a start.
Grilli was good but served up a two-out hit to Altuve that right-fielder Michael Saunders should have played conservatively with his team up two to hold the Houston batter to a single.
But he gambled, charging in on the sinking liner and missed on the dive and the ball went all the way to the wall and Altuve had himself a triple.
Grilli responded with a huge strikeout of Correa and fist-pumped his way off the mound in celebration.
In the ninth closer Roberto Osuna came in to do his thing, allowing a double to A.J. Reed but still managing to retire the side.
For Osuna, it was his 26th save of the year and the 46th of his career, tying the Major League Baseball record for most saves before a player’s 22nd birthday, matching Terry Forster’s mark.
“I probably can’t heap enough praise on the kid,” Gibbons said. “Can’t say he came out of nowhere but we didn’t anticipate this when he made the team last year. He’s got ice water in his veins, it’s tough to rattle the kid.”Report Typo/Error
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