NEW YORK -- After an encouraging start from Aaron Sanchez to send the Blue Jays into the All-Star break, Toronto was hoping to see more of the same as it began the second half of the season on Friday at Yankee Stadium.
And that’s what the Blue Jays got from the 27-year-old right-hander, despite a 4-0 series-opening loss to the American League East leaders.
“He pitched well,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said. “I mean, that’s an outstanding lineup, as you guys know. So he gave us a chance through four and then he struggled in the fifth of course, but that’s two good outings to me. The last two outings have been good, in my opinion.”
On Friday, the home team’s big inning came in the fifth. To that point, Sanchez had held the Yankees off the board and allowed three hits, just one for extra bases. New York left fielder Brett Gardner led off the inning with a triple, coming around on a groundout one batter later to break the scoreless tie.
All four of the Yankees’ runs crossed the plate in Sanchez’s fifth and final inning of the night, after he battled through the remnants of a sickness that plagued him during the break. To that point, Sanchez had held the Yankees off the board and allowed three hits, just one for extra bases.
New York left fielder Brett Gardner led off the inning with a triple, coming around on a groundout just one batter later to break the scoreless tie. Sanchez then allowed a one-out double to Aaron Judge, a single to Aaron Hicks and loaded the bases after hitting Gary Sanchez with a pitch.
“Because his last outing was good, and today he was pitching so well that he earned my trust to let him have a couple more hitters to see if he could get out of it,” Montoyo said. “And he did.”
Sanchez did, but not before his former teammate Edwin Encarnacion came to the plate and cleared the bases with his 10th double of the season. Despite the rough frame, Toronto’s righty was still encouraged by the outing as a whole.
“A hundred percent,” he said of finding progress. “It’s the first time I’ve seen my ball moving with that type of velocity. Today I felt like the old me, so I’m pleased. I felt like if I wasn’t going through this [illness], I could have gone out there and maybe I wouldn’t have [allowed] that four-spot in the fifth, but I’m pleased.”
The Blue Jays’ starter finished the frame, allowing four runs on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts, and Sanchez felt as though he continued progress in settling into his delivery after tinkering with it throughout the season.
“We did some things in my delivery that wasn’t really me, that I look back on and I wish I would have found a little earlier,” Sanchez said. “But I haven’t pitched really, healthy, in two years, so it’s one of those things [where] if my body feels good, I’m going to go out there and compete. I know all that other stuff will come, and that’s what’s happening.”
Searching for a level of comfort in his arm slot and release point early in the year -- and battling through a number of finger issues, including blisters and nail avulsions -- Sanchez is also encouraged by how he’s felt lately with where he’s at when the ball leaves his hand.
“I do think I’m there,” he said. “I knew it was going to take a while. Every injury that I’ve had has been with my fingertips, and that’s the last thing that controls the ball, so you just plug away. I’m not going to shy away from it. My body felt good, I’m going to go out there and make starts.
“I knew the reps were one thing that was going to help me get to where I needed to go, and I take it for what it’s worth. The numbers are what they are. You can’t look back. You’ve got to keep on moving forward, and now that I finally feel like I’m at where I need to be, hopefully this all takes off.”
The loss was Sanchez’s 13th of the season, the most in the Majors, but looking ahead to the second half of the year, he hopes the positives are something he can build on and utilize the rest of the way.
“A successful season is making starts, compared to the last few years,” he said. “Now if I can continue to do what I’ve done the last two starts, and stay strong and keep my velo up and command the ball like I have been, it’s a plus.”