Aaron Sanchez faced only one batter over the minimum through his first three innings in his rehab outing on Sunday for the Buffalo Bisons. Although the Syracuse Chiefs batters got to him in the fourth inning, scoring three runs on four hits in a 26-pitch frame, both he and Bisons manager Bobby Meacham were satisfied with the results and both felt that Sanchez would be ready to pitch against the Houston Astros in five days.
Sanchez’s boxscore line reads that he went 4.1 innings, having given up four earned runs on five hits and three walks, striking out four on the way. The exact numbers in the line don’t matter that much—it is rehab, after all—the most important stat for the game was probably the zero millilitres of blood shed from his middle finger and that he felt good during and after the game. (Unlike his last outing in the majors, Sanchez didn’t look down to check on his finger while on his mound.) He set out to throw around 75 pitches and finished the game as planned with 76, so Sanchez felt that it was enough to call it a good outing.
The Chiefs saw fastballs that came in at around 94-95, topping at 96 mph a few times. Sanchez battled his fastball command early in the game, looking like he was searching for the right release point through the first couple of innings. He sprinkled in nine curveballs (78-80 mph) and nine changeups (88-89 mph) mainly towards the second half of his outing.
“In the beginning of the outing I was rushing to the plate, but as I got more comfortable with myself and what I was trying to do, things kind of fell into place as they should’ve,” Sanchez told the post-game media scrum.
Sanchez was asked why he threw more changeups than we are used to seeing from him, and explained that he wanted to get the feel for it and that the Chiefs lineup was lefty-heavy (three lefties and three switch-hitters) so that’s how he chose to attack.
In both the first and the second innings, Sanchez walked the leadoff hitters, mostly missing up and away with his fastballs. But in both cases got out of trouble with double plays. He induced another double play in the fourth inning after allowing four straight hits that led to three runs.
Meacham was happy with the three groundball double plays from Sanchez.
“That’s his game. He’s gotta feel good. I know it felt good for me to watch our defence turn them.”
Sanchez started the fourth with a strikeout from Irving Falu on a 95-mph fastball. Fellow major-league rehabber Chris Heisey doubled on a hard-hit ball that could’ve been a single if it was played better by centrefielder Roemon Fields. Clint Robinson hit a curveball offering to double Heisey home on a soft fly ball that reached the left field wall only with assistance from the wind. Neftali Soto singled home Robinson on a soft line drive to left for the second run of the inning.
It looked like things were starting to unravel when a changeup in the dirt led to a wild pitch but after a single to score Soto, an 88-mph changeup handcuffed Jhonatan Solano for the aforementioned double play to end the inning.
Sanchez allowed a single (which later scored) to start the fifth and ended his outing in Coca-Cola Field with a called strikeout on a fastball down the pipe against Stephen Perez.
“I just wanted him to get out there to have a good outing, come out of it healthy, come out of it feeling good about himself,” Meacham said postgame.
Meacham walked over to Sanchez after taking him out and told the rehabbing major leaguer, “I’m not going to lie—it was fun watching you pitch up close like that like I did a few years back,” recalling their shared time together in double-A New Hampshire in 2014.
Neither the manager nor the starting pitcher knew the Blue Jays’ plans (or at least they were unwilling to share them publicly) but Meacham really liked how the ball was coming out of Sanchez’s hand and said he was ready to go back up to the Blue Jays.
As for Sanchez on his potential return to the Rogers Centre next Friday, “I’m ready if that’s where I’m going. Like I said, I don’t know where I’m going next or if I’m staying here again, but if I have to face Houston I’m ready to go.”
The Bisons lost 5-2 with Sanchez getting the “L”. Buffalo is in a rut, losing 24 of their past 27 games, and are now 36-47, 15.5 games back in the International League North division.