What team wouldn’t love to have this problem – one of the Blue Jays’ most promising young pitchers has surpassed expectations and performed so well that the club is contemplating throttling down his innings and putting him in the bullpen.
What would a front office give to have that kind of a conundrum?
The Aaron Sanchez rotation/bullpen debate is one which has overtaken Blue Jays land from day one of Spring Training camp, and past the midway point of the season, the debate is still going on strong; do the Jays simply keep Sanchez in the rotation or eventually move him over to the bullpen.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion a few weeks ago – that Aaron Sanchez was all but going to the bullpen in July or August. However, differing philosophies and Sanchez’ recent surge has many questioning whether he needs to be moved out of the rotation at all.
When it comes to sage pitching advice within the Blue Jays organization, there’s nobody who comes with more pedigree than Pat Hentgen. The man has been around pitching all his life, and now that he’s a special assistant to the club, Hentgen continues to give back to the Blue Jays. When he speaks, people listen.
Pat Hentgen made an appearance on Prime Time Sports yesterday, and offered up his advice in respect to Aaron Sanchez and his innings limit.
“For me, I was the mop-up/long reliever in ’92, trained as a starter my entire career in the minor leagues. And definitely came up with some elbow tendonitis in the bullpen my first year. I know that it was because of the warm-up, preparation and the routine – how I was trained as a starter every fifth day. Then all of a sudden, I get put into the big leagues and I’m pounding on my elbow on an irregular basis.
I could argue ’till I’m blue in the face that the healthiest thing to do is to pitch (Sanchez) to his innings limit and shut him down, if that’s what you want to do.”
There’s Pat Hentgen’s vote; he says Aaron Sanchez should stay in the starting rotation. For the overall health and preservation of his arm, riding Sanchez to his innings limit and shutting him down is probably the safest thing to do. But if the Blue Jays are in the midst of a pennant race, it’s going to be a very tough to see Sanchez fade away and not be able to pitch the remainder of the regular season and potentially the playoffs.
Throwing Sanchez into the bullpen might appear to be the “best of both worlds” solution, but one has to factor in the wear and tear a relief pitcher also accumulates by warming up in the bullpen. Taking Sanchez out of the rotation doesn’t prevent him from getting hurt; it’s simply a way to cut down on his innings and workload.
Hentgen alluded to the irregularity of the bullpen, and moving Sanchez from starting every five days to pitching on back-to-back nights can’t be much better for his health.
Michael Grange guest hosted Prime Time Sports on Monday and echoed the same sentiment with a very salient point about Sanchez.
“At least as a starting pitcher, you can control your environment. You can control your routine, you can pace yourself a little bit better within a game, you can push him back a day. Sure, he’s pitching less innings; but what really is the stress on his elbow, his body and his shoulder.”
At this point in the season and this point of Aaron Sanchez’ career, I think it actually might be more dangerous to his long-term development to transition him to the bullpen mid-way through the season rather than letting him play out the year in the starting rotation.
Think about it; the Blue Jays have spent the past five-plus years developing Aaron Sanchez into the pitcher he’s become today. All that hard work is finally starting to pay off for Sanchez and the Blue Jays have reached a point where they have a solid starting pitcher for the foreseeable future. Why mess with that?
Even if the Blue Jays can’t use Sanchez down the stretch or in the playoffs as a reliever, altering the course of his development could set him back once again.
I’m of the belief that the Blue Jays need to reach the playoffs first, and then worry about which players will fill the roles as starting pitchers and relievers. This notion that Sanchez needs to be preserved to pitch in the playoffs is a little presumptuous.
There’s no question that taking Aaron Sanchez out of the rotation now (or in the near future) leaves a huge void in the starting rotation. Even if the Blue Jays acquire someone like a Rich Hill or Julio Tehran, they might not deliver the same calibre of results which Sanchez has already given the Blue Jays.
The starting pitching market (or lack thereof) may have already made the Blue Jays’ decision for them. If they can’t get somebody better than Aaron Sanchez through trade, then they may as well leave Sanchez where he is and bolster the bullpen. Later in the season, if Sanchez reaches his innings cap, they could always plug Drew Hutchison in there.
The more I think about it, keeping Aaron Sanchez status quo is the way to go. Not only do the Blue Jays benefit by sending him out to the mound every five days, it allows them to focus their trade efforts elsewhere on the bullpen. And if they’re lucky, maybe a starter.
After watching how impressive Aaron Sanchez was as a reliever last year, it’s incredibly tempting to move him back to the bullpen for the remainder of the season. But if the risk to his arm as a reliever is no less than keeping him as a starter, then it’s an easy choice to make.
It’s just a matter of whether the Blue Jays are willing to do it.
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