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Sanchez throws bullpen session, nears return

Right-hander could start as soon as this weekend
MLB.com @gregorMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Aaron Sanchez is one step closer to making his return, as the Blue Jays right-hander threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday afternoon.

Sanchez threw off a mound prior to the Blue Jays' series opener against the Cardinals. He used all of his pitches, and the blister that forced a stint on the disabled list apparently was no longer an issue.

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ST. LOUIS -- Aaron Sanchez is one step closer to making his return, as the Blue Jays right-hander threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday afternoon.

Sanchez threw off a mound prior to the Blue Jays' series opener against the Cardinals. He used all of his pitches, and the blister that forced a stint on the disabled list apparently was no longer an issue.

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"It was a great session," pitching coach Pete Walker said. "We simulated two innings in the bullpen, we warmed him up like he would for a game, sat down, went back out for his first inning in the bullpen, threw 15 pitches, worked a few hitters, sat down and did it again for a second inning of work.

"So we simulated 30 pitches, game-like situations, obviously there wasn't a hitter in there, but just wanted to see how he responded. He felt good, his stuff looked really good and he felt very comfortable. So very encouraging outing."

Toronto has yet to put a firm timeline on Sanchez's return, but barring any setbacks, it seems realistic to expect he will pitch either this weekend against the Rays or early next week against the Yankees.

Video: BAL@TOR: Sanchez fans Smith in 3rd

Sanchez made two starts before a blister on his right middle finger required a stint on the 10-day DL. It's the same issue that plagued him throughout Spring Training, but a doctor removed a portion of his nail, which was expected to alleviate the problem.

"It's up for discussion right now," Walker said of Sanchez's possible return date. "There's a possibility Sunday works out. If we treat today like a start day, Friday would be his side day and potentially be available Sunday, but that's for me and [manager John Gibbons] and the staff to talk about and make a decision. Ultimately, it's up to Aaron and how he feels. As long as that finger continues to heal and move in a positive direction, it's a possibility."

Martin gets unexpected start at 3B

Russell Martin spent the last several years openly talking about how he wanted to play the infield for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic. That's where Martin was on Tuesday night, as Gibbons made the surprise decision to start him at third base.

Tuesday marked Martin's eighth career start at third base, but it was his first since May 2013, when he was with the Pirates. Martin also made one appearance at third for the Blue Jays in 2016, but he did not start the game there.

Video: TOR@LAA: Martin mashes solo home run to left-center

"We have to keep his bat in the lineup," Gibbons said. "He looks great at the plate right now. Our big thing is scoring runs. There's no doubt in my mind that he can do it. You look at that lineup, he's probably the best athlete on that field. We'll give it a go. If it works, we may do it again and give [catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] a shot to get hot. We'll see."

Howell returns

Toronto activated veteran left-hander J.P. Howell from the 10-day DL prior to Tuesday game. Right-hander Leonel Campos was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo to make room on the 25-man roster.

Howell had been out since April 7 after he experienced shoulder soreness during an outing against the Rays. He was expected to be Toronto's primary lefty out of the bullpen, and that likely will still happen, but the Blue Jays will be cautious with his usage at first.

"We'll probably ease him in, I would think," Gibbons said.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Aaron Sanchez