Richard Griffin: Another frustrating early end to season for Blue Jays’ Aaron Sanchez
|Toronto Star 24 Sep 2018 at 17:32|
For the second straight season, Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez’s season has been cut short by finger problems. On Sunday, the injury-plagued starter left the team in order to see yet another hand specialist regarding the digit he injured in a losing battle with a piece of luggage prior to a start June 21 in Anaheim.
Sanchez, 25, had made five starts since returning to the active ranks Aug. 25 and seemed to be making progress, although he was still lacking in command within the strike zone of his off-speed pitches. He seemed to be adjusting, but will now miss his final scheduled start.
For the second straight year, Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez has seen his season come to an early end as the result of finger problems. (Leon Halip / GETTY IMAGES)
On Sept. 18 at Fenway Park, Sanchez made his most effective start since his return to health in allowing just one run in seven innings against the powerful Red Sox. Then, in his 20th and what would prove to be his last start of the season, Sanchez lasted just four innings and needed 77 pitches in Baltimore.
“We thought Aaron was making a lot of progress and we were really encouraged by his outing in Boston and so saw incremental progress,” Jays GM Ross Atkins said. “Aaron’s frustrated with not being able to perform at the highest level and wants more information. We’re obviously very supportive of that.”
The information Sanchez seeks will be from the third of three top hand surgeons in the U.S. But Atkins was reluctant to name the surgeon or the city to which Sanchez was travelling. That hesitation may indicate there is a possibility surgery will be required and the club will only have an official report at that time.
“Listen, I think always … there’s a lot of possibilities and to say that surgery is not a possibility … surgery is always a possibility with professional athletes, so I wouldn’t eliminate it,” Atkins said.
After Sanchez claimed the AL ERA title in 2016, making 30 starts and logging 192.0 innings, battling only occasional problems with blisters that were not highly publicized, he then struggled through the 2017 campaign, making just eight starts surrounding three long stints on the disabled list.
Over the past two seasons, the native of Barstow, Calif., has made a total of 28 starts, with a 5-9 record and a 4.72 ERA. Last season’s issues with blisters and this current predicament are completely separate but the results on his once highly promising career have been similarly devastating.
“I think it’s just a matter of getting more information and where we are in the season,” a frustrated Atkins said of the reason for sending him home for the final week and not re-joining the team in Tampa. “So we’re just collecting information, having him see another specialist. Where we are in the season means flights, and multiple flights don’t make a lot of sense.”
The timeline Atkins described of how the decision for Sanchez to go home came about begins with the club believing Sanchez had turned the corner due to his strong start in Boston, throwing seven innings and 91 pitches. But it was after the start at Camden Yards that Sanchez came to Atkins and reported he wanted to seek another opinion on his bothersome finger injury.
“We’re continuing to get more information,” Atkins said. “There’s three hand specialists in the country and we would like to use all of them. So we’re working towards that. And we have a specialist here as well.”
Atkins was asked who the third doctor is and where the appointment was, but he deflected the question away.
“I’d rather not call out the doctors (and name them),” Atkins said. “We will share them with you after the procedures are done, but out of respect for Aaron and those doctors and his privacy.”
It was interesting the word “procedures” was used in the GM’s answer. This is a pivotal off-season for Sanchez in terms of contract and the fact that he is in his second year of being arbitration eligible, both of those seasons clouded by injuries to his hand. It’s possible there is some method to this madness on the part of Sanchez and his personal advisers. If the reason for this failed season can be placed on a lingering finger problem instead of what the statistics show at face value, it may help explain to an arbitrator that if healthy, AL ERA-leading numbers should be expected in 2019.
“Since the incident in Anaheim we’ve tried,” Atkins said of the club’s frustration. “It happened off the field and we’ve tried to do everything we can to conservatively treat it. We were really encouraged by the progress he was making. The start in Boston was really encouraging, so unfortunately we are where we are now and we’re going to get more information to see what our alternatives are.”
Those who witnessed Sanchez depart the clubhouse on his way out described his frustration. There was also visible frustration with Atkins when he spoke of his pitcher. If any type of surgical procedure is required, there will remain question marks surrounding the talented but underachieving pitcher well into next season.