TORONTO -- One after the other at this weekend's Winter Fest at Rogers Centre, Blue Jays players said that they expect their team to surprise some people this season. For that to happen, they'll need right-hander Aaron Sanchez back at full health and pitching like he did in 2016.
Sanchez, 26, underwent surgery on his right index finger in late September and only began playing catch again around the new year after 12 weeks without throwing. Blister issues in 2017 and the freak accident with a suitcase handle in '18 have kept Sanchez grounded for the past two seasons, but he's optimistic that these finger issues are finally behind him.
"I'm already playing catch. I'm far along in what I'm doing, so all signs right now are positive," Sanchez said. "The throwing program is a little slower than usual, only because I want to make sure I'm using my fingertips and make sure the ball is coming off the finger the right way."
• Montoyo gets to know team at Winter Fest
In that great 2016 season, Sanchez went 15-2 with a 3.00 ERA over 192 innings. At the time, it looked like he and Marcus Stroman would form a one-two punch atop Toronto's rotation that would leave most clubs envious, but health has gotten in the way.
"If Stroman's healthy and you have Sanchez healthy, my money's on my team," said manager Charlie Montoyo. "You can go to Boston, Yankee Stadium, anywhere."
Sanchez was forced to adjust the pressure of his pitch grips on the fly as he dealt with the lingering finger injury, something that particularly impacted his fastball and curveball. That's left Sanchez with a walk rate of five batters per nine innings each of the past two seasons, which looks more like the prospect version of Sanchez than the finished MLB product.
Blue Jays fans will be understandably wary of recovery timelines after a 2018 season where several key injuries lingered longer than they were expected to, but Sanchez is confident that he'll be ready in time for a full and productive season.
"I anticipate being fully healthy coming into Spring Training, and if I'm not, I'm a week behind and I'm on the mound the next week," Sanchez said. "As far as I am in my routine now, I'm on pace to be ready to go."
Alomar excited for 2019 Blue Jays
Add Blue Jays great Roberto Alomar to the chorus of players with high expectations for the season ahead, despite the club's ongoing rebuild.
"I think we're going to have a great season," the 50-year-old Hall of Famer said. "We have some great young guys that went through the system, and they know how to play the game of baseball. I believe we're going to surprise a lot of people."
Hernandez sees new style of offense
The Blue Jays still have their sluggers, but outfielder Teoscar Hernandez expects this younger lineup to bring some new elements into the season.
"I think we're going to get more speed than last year," Hernandez said. "Last year, we had those guys that hit homers and that really can't run. This year, we've got young guys than can run and have power, too."