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Sanchez relies on changeup in stellar debut

MLB.com @gregorMLB

ST. PETERSBURG -- Aaron Sanchez's season debut turned out to be a mere footnote in a 3-2, extra-innings loss for the Blue Jays on Saturday night, but in the grand scheme of things, it meant much more than that.

Sanchez was coming off a spring in which he barely pitched. When he did, he allowed more runs than innings pitched and a blister late in camp even put his start of the year in jeopardy. There were warning signs all over the place, but none of that seemed to matter once the regular season got under way.

Full Game Coverage

ST. PETERSBURG -- Aaron Sanchez's season debut turned out to be a mere footnote in a 3-2, extra-innings loss for the Blue Jays on Saturday night, but in the grand scheme of things, it meant much more than that.

Sanchez was coming off a spring in which he barely pitched. When he did, he allowed more runs than innings pitched and a blister late in camp even put his start of the year in jeopardy. There were warning signs all over the place, but none of that seemed to matter once the regular season got under way.

Full Game Coverage

The reigning American League leader in ERA looked as good as ever during his first start of the year as he allowed one run on four hits over seven innings.

"I felt strong, this was a very anticipated start for me," Sanchez said. "Getting to see everybody do their thing and be the last one out there. I was just trying to keep the ball down ... I knew it was going to be tough facing Chris Archer. Not a lot of runs were going to be scored, so the quicker I got my team back into the dugout to get the sticks going, that was the game plan."

Sanchez and Archer went toe-to-toe and Toronto's 24-year-old did not give an inch until Corey Dickerson hit an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth. That was the only blemish on this night for Sanchez who managed to throw 101 pitches despite topping out around 70 during the spring.

One noticeable development was Sanchez regularly going to his changeup the third time through the Rays order. That was an area of focus during Spring Training and the side work appears to have paid off. In the sixth, he used it to strike out Brad Miller and induce a weak ground ball by Logan Morrison. In the seventh, he threw it twice in an at-bat to Derek Norris that eventually resulted in a strikeout and later did the same to Dickerson.

Last year, Sanchez's changeup was little more than a show-me pitch, but this season it is shaping up as another weapon to go along with his overpowering sinker and at times lethal curveball.

"They are an aggressive team," Sanchez said. "I saw that the first couple of times through the lineup. The third time through wasn't going to be any easier and Russell Martin knew that, so we wanted to give them a different look. I felt good with that pitch, but we would have liked to win that game."

And there's the early season problem for these Blue Jays. Toronto has received four quality starts in five games so far yet the club finds itself 1-4 for the third time in franchise history. The main culprit has been a lack of offense.

Josh Donaldson has been one the lone standout performers so far. Jose Bautista is hitting .105, Troy Tulowitzki is batting .143 and Devon Travis is batting .158. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons expects that won't be the case for long and for Toronto's sake he better be right.

"The guys are battling," Gibbons said. "Every game we are playing, other than last night, has been a tight game late. We've just come up short. We'll break out."

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, Aaron Sanchez