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Sanchez makes rehab start, could return soon

Right-hander expected to push Biagini back to 'pen
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Aaron Sanchez, on the disabled list for the third time this season due to a finger injury, is one step closer to rejoining the Blue Jays, but it will be up to his teammates to make sure Toronto is staying in the American League East race for when he returns.

Sanchez officially began a rehab assignment for Class A Advanced Dunedin on Tuesday night and allowed three runs on six hits over 3 2/3 innings. He struck out three and walked two while throwing 36 of his 64 pitches for strikes in a 7-3 victory.

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TORONTO -- Aaron Sanchez, on the disabled list for the third time this season due to a finger injury, is one step closer to rejoining the Blue Jays, but it will be up to his teammates to make sure Toronto is staying in the American League East race for when he returns.

Sanchez officially began a rehab assignment for Class A Advanced Dunedin on Tuesday night and allowed three runs on six hits over 3 2/3 innings. He struck out three and walked two while throwing 36 of his 64 pitches for strikes in a 7-3 victory.

Full Game Coverage

The first outing for Sanchez in more than a month came on the same night that Toronto opened a tough 13-game schedule that could make or break its season. They started off that stretch with a tight 3-1 loss to the Orioles. However, the American League is still very much up for grabs as the midway point approaches, but the Blue Jays have yet to reach .500 and need to go on a run before it's too late.

"Everyone is rooting for him to stay healthy, keep that finger healthy and strong and get back as soon as possible," said Joe Biagini, who has been filling in during Sanchez's absence. "We all hope that we have our full force back as much as possible for this next stretch."

Toronto's plan for Sanchez is still somewhat unclear, but there is an outside chance he will rejoin the Blue Jays on Sunday for a series finale against Boston. A more realistic scenario would see Sanchez make one more rehab start before getting the call on the final weekend before the All-Star break.

No matter what happens, it would appear as though Biagini's run as a starter is just about over. The righty is expected to return to the bullpen in the near future, where he will resume his role as a setup man and as an occasional long reliever when Toronto needs the innings. Biagini likely will get one more start before his demotion, but if Wednesday night was the end, he finished 2-6 with a 4.93 ERA over 49 1/3 innings as a starter.

Video: BAL@TOR: Biagini fans Smith to escape trouble

 "It was kind of a weird night for him," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Biagini, who allowed three runs over 5 1/3 innings in the loss against the Orioles. "At times he looked really good and dominating and then he'd lose the zone. He kept us there and then the bullpen did a nice job."

According to Statcast™, since joining the rotation on May 7, Biagini produced an expected weighted on-base average of .272, which placed him in the top 15 in the big leagues during that span.

Those numbers put Biagini behind New York's CC Sabathia (.271) and ahead of Tampa Bay's Chris Archer (.274). Biagini also entered play on Tuesday with a FIP of 3.26, so the analytics are favorable even if the rest of the story is a little bit more convoluted than that. Either way, it has been a successful first stint for the righty, and with Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano set to hit free agency at the end of the year, that's a big development for the Blue Jays.

"I think as a starter, there are just a lot more things exposed," Biagini said. "The bullpen really forces you to be consistent, forces you to be on your game as much as possible. ... Starting is obviously the same game but there are a few different things going on that really challenges you to stay as simple as possible without leaving anything out. That's something I'm comfortable with learning and doing and I feel like with every start I learn a little bit more about that."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Toronto Blue Jays, Joe Biagini