HOUSTON -- Forget everything you've heard about Aaron Sanchez. The American League ERA leader is staying in the Blue Jays' starting rotation after all.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins made the announcement during a scrum with reporters on Thursday afternoon. Earlier this week, Atkins said Sanchez would transition to the bullpen, but the organization has since experienced a change of heart.
Toronto will instead stick with a six-man rotation following Monday's acquisition of Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano. Sanchez's workload will continue to be monitored and the club will look for signs of fatigue, but the plan for now is to keep him in the rotation. So what changed in the last 48 hours?
"The biggest thing is input from different people after something was more concrete, or closer to it, and the fact that Francisco Liriano was so open to everything," Atkins said. "Then the more we thought about the potential of a six- man rotation not just benefiting Aaron but benefiting the others in the rotation at this point in the season."
Atkins said all of Toronto's starting pitchers signed off on the move and Liriano expressed a willingness to pitch out of the bullpen if that's the direction the Blue Jays wanted to take. The plan could change, but for now the club will go with a short bench and instead use an extra starter.
The move comes after several days of mixed signals from the front office, coaching staff and players inside the clubhouse. Atkins announced on Monday that Sanchez would transition to the bullpen. Veteran catcher Russell Martin spoke out against the move on Tuesday, but president Mark Shapiro appeared to double down on Toronto's original stance during a radio interview later that night.
The first signs of a possible change occurred Wednesday, when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters "nothing's locked in stone yet." Atkins flew to Houston the following day and held meetings with the players and coaching staff before making his change of heart official.
"Aaron sees himself as a Major League starting pitcher," Atkins said. "I think ultimately what he's focused on is helping the team win, but he sees himself as a starting pitcher, and he has worked really hard to put himself in that situation. He has been great about it. He has been focused on the team. He has been putting the team first since Day 1, but I think it's his preference to remain in the rotation."
Sanchez has been one of the biggest stories in all of baseball this season following a breakout year on the mound. He was named to the All-Star Game, and by all accounts is a contender for the American League Cy Young Award. He'll enter Saturday's outing in Kansas City with an 11-1 record and a 2.71 ERA in 21 starts.
The 24-year-old recently surpassed his career high in innings pitched with 139 1/3. Toronto will now face the challenge of trying to limit his workload the rest of the way while at the same time maintaining his spot in the rotation. A future transition to the 'pen has not been ruled out, but the focus seems to be on finding a way to make this new scenario work.
"That's the question, that's what we're focused on, and what we're trying not to do is paint ourselves into a corner," Atkins said of keeping Sanchez's innings to a manageable number. "We're also thinking about all of the alternatives. It's amazing how many ideas have come out of this, and they have come from so many different places.
"The fact that we're getting closer to September helps. The fact that we will have a player or two with options helps. The fact that our bullpen has corrected itself and is pitching better, guys are settling into roles, helps. Francisco's openness helps. We'll be able to skip starts, we'll be able to do even more creative things when we get into September."