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Blue Jays fall in Sanchez's return to mound

MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Right-hander Aaron Sanchez made his long-awaited return to the mound on Friday night. It was far from perfect, but he believes it was a solid first step toward reclaiming his role as a front-line starting pitcher.

In his first appearance since July 19, Sanchez tossed 5 2/3 innings in a 4-2 loss to the Yankees. The 25-year-old was charged with four runs on eight hits and four walks while striking out two and throwing 48 of his 89 pitches for strikes.

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TORONTO -- Right-hander Aaron Sanchez made his long-awaited return to the mound on Friday night. It was far from perfect, but he believes it was a solid first step toward reclaiming his role as a front-line starting pitcher.

In his first appearance since July 19, Sanchez tossed 5 2/3 innings in a 4-2 loss to the Yankees. The 25-year-old was charged with four runs on eight hits and four walks while striking out two and throwing 48 of his 89 pitches for strikes.

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The performance was actually a little bit better than the pitching line would suggest. He was victimized in the second on a grounder that snuck through the infield and then simply ran out of gas in the sixth, when the Yankees tacked on a couple of insurance runs.

"I thought today went well in terms of what I was featuring to the plate," Sanchez said. "When you give up eight hits and walk four guys, it's going to be tough to win. I thought there were a couple of scenarios, if they go our way, the game changes [and ends up] a little bit different. But I'll take the positives out of today and just keep on working."

Sanchez came out firing in the top of the first inning with a fastball that sat at 96 mph. He cruised through the heart of the Yankees' lineup by getting Aaron Judge to hit into a ground-ball double play and inducing a weak grounder to first from Giancarlo Stanton. That was the start of a trend, as the sluggers combined to go 0-for-8 with three strikeouts.

Video: TOR@NYY: Sanchez induces 1-4-3 double play from Judge

The biggest problem for Sanchez, surprisingly, was the bottom of the Yankees' lineup. New York's final three batters -- Billy McKinney, Brandon Drury and Tyler Wade -- combined to go 4-for-11 with a pair of extra-base hits and four RBIs. In the end, that was enough to drop Sanchez to 1-2 with a 3.03 ERA in his career against New York.

One surprising aspect of Sanchez's start is that he rarely went to his curveball. He instead almost exclusively featured his sinker-changeup combo. Two years ago he was the opposite, almost always featuring the curveball as his secondary pitch and rarely relying on the changeup. On Friday night he threw the changeup 17 times and used seven curves.

"I knew I had some life to my fastball early," he said. "I knew they were going to try to jump on me early. A lot of teams do. I just felt that was telling me that was the scenario, the pace of the game. [Changeup] over my curveball. When I did throw my curveball, Didi [Gregorius] smacked it into center. Good shape, but I need to locate better."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Started from the bottom: The bottom of the order was a problem for Sanchez all night, and the issues began in the second inning, when Drury delivered an RBI double off the wall in right field. Drury missed a three-run homer by a few feet, but it was still enough to give New York an early 1-0 lead. Drury added an RBI single in the fourth, but that wasn't the last time the bottom of the Yankees' order made its presence felt.

"Frankly, with Sanchez on the mound, that's a tough matchup for our big guys," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "When he's on top of his game and he's got that sinker going, he's really tough, especially on right-handed hitters. He did a good job with our big guys, but big hits up and down. It was really nice to see everyone chip in."

One batter too many: The Yankees had the bases loaded in the top of the sixth with two outs when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons made the curious decision to leave Sanchez in the game instead of turning to his bullpen. The move quickly backfired, as Wade hit a 1-0 double to right-center field, and two more runs crossed the plate. Wade's single came after Sanchez walked two in the inning and appeared to be leaving a lot of pitches up in the zone. Gibbons went to the bullpen after the Wade at-bat, but by then it was too late.

"I was," Sanchez conceded when asked if he was fatigued by the end. "I think the adrenaline to start the game kind of burned me there at the end. But it's just nice to be back there, getting into the flow of the game. In Spring Training you try to mimic it as best you can, but there's nothing like it when you get out there. It's a good stepping stone for me. I felt like I featured a lot of good things tonight."

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Blue Jays are 0-4 all time in regular-season games played during the month of March. Toronto is 0-2 this season and previously lost to the Yankees on March 31, 2003, and to Tampa Bay on March 31, 2014. The Blue Jays are 52-77 in March/April since the start of 2013, for a winning percentage of .403, which is the lowest in the Majors over that span.

WHAT'S NEXT
The Blue Jays will unveil their lineup against left-handed pitching when they match up against the Yankees' CC Sabathia on Saturday at 4:07 p.m. ET. Steve Pearce likely will get the start in left over Curtis Granderson, who hit leadoff in Toronto's first two games. Marco Estrada starts.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

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