Sanchez continues to make strides for Blue Jays

Righty dominates, but 'pen blows 7-run lead a day after rally from 7 down, an MLB first

July 29th, 2019

TORONTO -- brought his best stuff to Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon against the Rays, and he brought it early. The right-hander struck out the first six batters he faced, which set a Blue Jays record to open the game, before Toronto’s bullpen fell apart late.

Off the field, the Blue Jays were busy trading Eric Sogard to the Rays and agreeing to a deal that will send star pitcher Marcus Stroman to the Mets for two pitching prospects. On the field, they coughed up a seven-run lead to fall 10-9, which prevented Sanchez from earning his first win since April.

Sunday's loss marked the first time in Major League history that a team won after trailing by seven or more runs (as the Blue Jays did Saturday), and then lost its next game after leading by seven or more, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician of Major League Baseball.

Sanchez found trouble in the sixth before leaving the game with four runs allowed on six hits over 5 2/3 innings, but his 10 strikeouts and zero walks in the 10-9 loss were encouraging, as they came on the heels of another strong start against Cleveland on Tuesday. He has struggled for the majority of the season and, at times, hasn’t looked close to returning to his 2016 form, but Sanchez now has some concrete building blocks for the last two months of the season.

“He was one pitch away from an outstanding outing,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He just hung that one breaking ball at the end to one of their good hitters [Travis d'Arnaud], and he hit a double down the line. Other than that, he was really good.”

All eyes are on the future with Wednesday’s Trade Deadline, of course, especially following the Stroman news. Sanchez, however, occupies an interesting space in the middle. 

The 27-year-old entered the season with the potential to be a major trade chip, but lingering finger issues and poor performances have brought him to this point, where it is far likelier that he stays with the Blue Jays. The focus now, on both sides, is to rebuild Sanchez’s value and get him back to the pitcher he once was, and the past week has represented a potential step in that direction.

“I’m not quite there, but I’m definitely making strides to that point,” Sanchez said. “I’m just glad that I’m going out there and everything is on the upper end, not declining. Like I said before, this thing is going to take time when I’m dealing with injuries that regard my hand. That’s been for 2 1/2 years now. I’ve just got to kind of ride it out and, hopefully, this trend of me feeling good continues.”

The curveball was an excellent weapon for Sanchez on Sunday, especially early. Ji-Man Choi and Austin Meadows struck out swinging against the curve in the first inning, and Matt Duffy whiffed on it to end the second. Sanchez managed to be efficient early despite the strikeouts, needing just 68 pitches through the first five frames before his pace slowed in the sixth. That had a lot to do with his second consecutive start with zero walks.

“When you do limit those, runs stay off the board,” Sanchez said. “I think a lot of the runs I gave up early in the year, a lot of those were walks. In the game, they always say that walks haunt you and, for me, they did. To limit the free passes and let them earn it, it’s a lot better than giving them that free pass. Once a bloop and a blast happens, it’s three runs or four runs instead of one or two.”

Toronto’s offense carried over its momentum from Saturday’s seven-run comeback win with home runs from and . also went 3-for-4 with a double and four RBIs.