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Blue Jays optimistic Sanchez can stay healthy

Right-hander throws off mound on Day 1 of Spring Training
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays held their first official workouts for pitchers and catchers on Wednesday morning, and along with that came a very welcome sight: Aaron Sanchez throwing off a mound.

Toronto did not get to see much of that last season, as Sanchez was limited to 36 innings because of a lingering blister issue. If Toronto is going to be taken seriously this season, history cannot repeat itself. The Blue Jays need a healthy Sanchez more than ever, and everyone around the team seems to know it.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays held their first official workouts for pitchers and catchers on Wednesday morning, and along with that came a very welcome sight: Aaron Sanchez throwing off a mound.

Toronto did not get to see much of that last season, as Sanchez was limited to 36 innings because of a lingering blister issue. If Toronto is going to be taken seriously this season, history cannot repeat itself. The Blue Jays need a healthy Sanchez more than ever, and everyone around the team seems to know it.

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Sanchez threw approximately 25 pitches to Russell Martin on Day 1 of Spring Training. His command was rusty, but the velocity seemed strong and he spun several impressive curveballs. Martin offered plenty of encouragement, at one point saying, "That was backdoor nasty, dude." That's certainly positive, but it doesn't mean everything will be smooth sailing from here on out for arguably Toronto's top pitcher.

Video: Outlook: Sanchez is looking for a rebound season

The 25-year-old said all of the right things during his first media availability of the spring, but it was hard not to notice that almost everything came with a caveat. Sanchez said he feels "great" and should be ready to go for Opening Day, but then added "barring any setbacks" for good measure. He said there have been no issues, but he followed with "up to this point."

The harsh reality is that nobody really knows how all of this will play out, because blisters are almost impossible to predict. Sanchez dealt with a similar issue throughout 2016, but outside of a minor setback in August, he didn't have to miss time. Last year, it was the complete opposite, as the blister lingered for so long that it became a lost season.

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"I think I just need to go out there and get the reps really," Sanchez said. "In hindsight, I didn't really pitch last year. It's just getting back to getting reps, getting the right reps, get back into my delivery. I'm not going in there looking at one thing. I can always improve. I'm just going in to make sure I get the reps I need and do everything I feel is right. I'll be ready to go come Game 1."

When the Blue Jays last made the postseason in 2016, they did so on the heels of their rotation. Toronto's rotation led the American League in ERA (3.64), innings (995 1/3) and WHIP (1.22) and tied for second with 66 wins. Last year, Blue Jays starters ranked seventh in ERA (4.57), 13th in innings (868 1/3), 12th in WHIP (1.45) and 10th in wins (47).

Tweet from @BlueJays: Who else is ready to 👀��@A_Sanch41 throw 🔥 in 2018? pic.twitter.com/0JVVsDijyb

That's a huge dropoff from one year to the next, and what's odd is that the starters were nearly the same. The issue was health, with J.A. Happ missing six weeks and Sanchez being out for nearly an entire season. Add in a disappointing campaign from Marco Estrada, and the Blue Jays were basically eliminated by May.

The same group of starters has returned again in 2018. Sanchez, Happ, Estrada, Marcus Stroman and a still-to-be-determined fifth starter will have to lead the way for a team that is expected to struggle to score runs. Sanchez's 3.00 ERA over 192 innings from 2016 could be the difference, but his 4.25 ERA over eight starts from a year ago certainly won't be.

"I'm not going to sit here and say I might not have an issue this year," Sanchez said. "It could very well be that something pops up. I'm going to try and maintain it as much as I can. In '16, I had the issue all year, and I just kind of dealt with it. Last year, when we had the cut, or whatever you want to call it, we just needed time to hurry up and time never hurried up.

"That's kind of where we're at. For me, I think it's about maintaining what I'm doing with my finger, making sure the shape of the nail is good, making sure I'm doing things out here, throwing-wise good, and then I think everything else should be fine."

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