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Sanchez finds success with offspeed stuff

Special to MLB.com

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- In his second outing of the spring, Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez had better command of all of his pitches. Sort of.

Sanchez tossed three scoreless innings in a 13-8 win over the visiting Twins at Dunedin Stadium on Saturday. He faced the minimum, while fanning two and walking none.

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- In his second outing of the spring, Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez had better command of all of his pitches. Sort of.

Sanchez tossed three scoreless innings in a 13-8 win over the visiting Twins at Dunedin Stadium on Saturday. He faced the minimum, while fanning two and walking none.

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"I thought it was good work," Sanchez said. "I threw a lot of strikes. I threw a lot of quality strikes with my offspeed stuff."

Sanchez did lose control of a 98-mph fastball that ended up behind right-handed batter Taylor Featherston in the third. Featherston shrugged off the pitch and lined a double off the base of the wall in left-center on the next offering. It was the only hit of the game against Sanchez, who promptly picked Featherston off for the third out of the inning.

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"I was trying to change the grip as I was going to the plate and I kind of rushed forward a little bit," Sanchez said. "I'm just glad it didn't hit him."

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was pleased with how the fireballer's changeup has been progressing this spring.

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"Obviously, it's not their top lineup, but you're looking at what his ball is doing and where he's throwing and he did throw some really good changeups," Gibbons said.

Sanchez was pleased overall with the outing after allowing two earned runs and hitting a batter in his last spring appearance. He said that getting to warm up and prepare for Saturday's game as a starter, instead of coming out of the bullpen, was a factor in the improved outcome.

"Honestly, I think that helped a ton," Sanchez said. "For me to go through my routine in the normal way, and run through it from top to bottom, that's what happens and that's what needs to happen when I'm out there on the mound."

Control problems have been a nagging concern for Sanchez, who was limited to just eight starts in 2017. Recurring blister issues on the middle finger of his pitching hand led to him issuing 20 walks in 36 innings of work.

Video: Outlook: Sanchez is looking for a rebound season

Position battle

Reliever John Axford continued to refine his two-seam fastball as he looks to lock down a late-inning role in the Blue Jays' bullpen. Axford tossed a perfect seventh inning on Saturday. It was his second scoreless outing to start the spring. He didn't pick up a strikeout, but did induce three ground-ball outs on a day when the wind was blowing out at a steady clip.

"Day like this, you'd better be a ground-ball guy," Gibbons joked. "I'm impressed. He's throwing hard, the ball's moving. I really like what we're seeing."

Gibbons has really liked what he has seen of the two-seamer, which can keep hitters from getting a solid barrel on Axford's pitches without sacrificing control.

"I think that's something that has always hurt him a little bit, the command issue," Gibson said. "If you throw it that hard and get it in the zone with the ball moving, you've got a pretty good chance."

Injury updates

With the team scheduled to have an off-day on Monday, third baseman Josh Donaldson's return to the field has been pushed back to Tuesday against the Braves. Donaldson has been dealing with minor inflammation in his right throwing shoulder that has limited him to designated hitter duties this spring.

"He should be good to go," Gibbons said. "His shoulder's hanging a little bit, but he'll be OK. Usually, he'd be out there playing third base, but we're just going to knock it out."

Up next

The Blue Jays will travel to Clearwater, Fla., to take on the Philies at Spectrum Field on Sunday at 1:05 p.m ET. Righty Marco Estrada will get the start for Toronto against Philadelphia's Jerad Eickhoff. Jaime Garcia, who will be making his Blue Jays spring debut, Roberto Osuna, Aaron Loup and Ryan Tepera are all scheduled to pitch in relief for Toronto. Watch the game live on MLB.TV.

Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays, Aaron Sanchez