Toronto's Aaron Sanchez move reignites inning limit debate

MLB: San Diego Padres at Toronto Blue Jays

Let’s start with the obvious: nobody – not renowned surgeon Dr James Andrews, not agent Scott Boras, not Washington Nationals and New York Mets general managers Mike Rizzo and Sandy Alderson, not Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz – knows the right path when it comes to protecting young arms.

When young Nats hurler Stephen Strasburg was controversially shut down in September of 2012 and New York ace Matt Harvey blew through his innings limit last season, both were coming off Tommy John elbow surgery: Aaron Sanchez, the Toronto Blue Jays’ 24-year-old ace at the center of the latest innings debate has not, further muddying the issue. 

Jays GM Ross Atkins, who along with their CEO and President Mark Shapiro have made the controversial decision to yank the former reliever from the starting rotation sooner rather than later, is smart enough to realize that he doesn’t know what’s right either.

“There’s not data either way,” Ross told TSN radio in Toronto on Tuesday.

With all the unknowns flying around Toronto, here’s what we do know: Sanchez is the centerpiece of what is arguably the best starting rotation in the American League. He’s gone 17 starts without a loss, the longest active stretch in MLB, while compiling a 2.71 ERA during a season in which he’s become a legitimate Cy Young candidate. Sanchez is also efficient, averaging 14.9 pitches per inning, good enough for sixth in MLB.

Why is Atkins preparing to remove Sanchez from the rotation? At 139.1 innings thrown this season, Sanchez has already eclipsed his 2014 high mark of 133.1 innings, which were thrown between the Blue Jays and their minor league affiliates. In a division where home-grown pitching stars are a rarity, the Jays are highly motivated to keep Sanchez healthy for the long term.

In addition to theoretically protecting Sanchez’s prized right arm, the move also sets up what could be a formidable 1-2-3 bullpen punch along with set-up man Jason Grilli and closer Roberto Osuna. It could help a relief core that ranks 11th in ERA, but that theory also presumes Sanchez has no issues moving back to relief work.

Replacing Sanchez in the rotation would be the inconsistent Francisco Liriano, acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline, with journeyman Scott Feldman waiting in the wings if that didn’t work out.

“We feel like transitioning him [Sanchez] to a relief role would be the best thing for us being in Game 7 of the World Series,” said Atkins on a conference call following the deal for Liriano.

Interesting thought, especially when you consider the dogfight Toronto are in to even make the playoffs, let alone the World Series. When Strasburg left the rotation in 2012 the Nats had a 6.5 game NL East lead in early September.

Meanwhile, the fact that one knows what’s right and wrong for Sanchez’s health in the long run isn’t keeping those in Toronto and beyond from taking sides.

On Wednesday, Toronto’s SportsNet590 radio’s Andrew Walker said “it’s insane to throw him 240 innings! [that number would be reached only if Sanchez finished the season and the Jays enjoyed an extended playoff run]. Categorically insane!”

Smoltz, who pitched both as a starter and then in the bullpen, told Toronto’s The Fan radio on Wednesday that he doesn’t like the way Toronto are handling the situation.

“Going to the bullpen and you’re not the closer has a lot more of an effect on your arm and body than people think because you don’t have a defined role. It’s not like they go in the seventh inning of every game we’re gonna get him up and get him in. When you’re a top-line starter, which I think [Sanchez] is, you got to make sure that that becomes the DNA of this player.”

Jays starting catcher Russell Martin has seen most of Sanchez’ innings up close.

“I don’t like it,” Martin said on Sportsnet’s Tim & Sid show. “You got a guy who is cruising, showing no signs of fatigue ... How many stressful innings has he had? I don’t think he’s had too many, you know? His innings are pretty clean ... if the guy is completely healthy and putting up quality start after quality start, I don’t even know why it’s a discussion right now. That’s just my opinion. I’m not the one pulling the strings.

Martin wants to win and presumably, so do his team-mates, so such a move could potentially stir the clubhouse negatively at exactly the wrong time.

Throw out all of the unknowns in the health issue and you’re left with a pure baseball decision. Removing a Cy Young candidate makes little to no sense, and risks derailing all the momentum the rejuvenated franchise is carrying. Canada’s team are poised to break through the 3 million mark in attendance for the first time since 1993 and are among the favorites to reach the playoffs and potentially win their third World Series title. They should be all in for today, not tomorrow.

Video of the week

On Sunday, Cincinnati Reds hurler Homer Bailey completed his long journey back from Tommy John surgery, pitching well in his first big league game since April of 2015. But he was still rusty: with runners on the corners in the sixth, San Diego’s Wil Myers took off for home after Bailey turned his back following a walk, crossing the plate easily to steal a run. Bryan Price came out to discuss the play with the umpire, but had no recourse after learning that his pitcher was asleep at the wheel.

Cue the lulluby...

Quote of the Week

That’s Ken Rosenthal apologizing for his Yasiel Puig story that said that the Dodgers outfielder had “stormed off” after learning he wouldn’t be on the team plane to Denver. When Rosenthal learned that Puig wasn’t at the ballpark, and thus could not have “stormed off” the writer showed true class in admitting the mistake, and also added that “the information came from sources, but that’s not an excuse. It’s my job to check everything thoroughly.”

Puig, who was replaced by the incoming Josh Reddick and sent down to the minors by LA, was sympathetic.

Who’s closer to victory: Donald Trump or the Cubs?

Well, the New York Post published some little-known photos of the Trumpster’s wife Melania this week, and, depending on your disposition in life, that could be considered either a win or a loss. However, the flap with Humayun Khan must be a black mark form wherever you’re standing. When you weigh it all up, Le Grande Orange has been playing from behind all week.

Meanwhile, the Cubs enjoyed a walk-off win on Sunday against the Mariners thanks to pitcher Jon Lester, who can’t throw to first base but can lay down one heck of a bunt. While in the very same game, pitcher Travis Wood made a fabulous catch up against the ivy in left field. And all that came before Chicago swept the Marlins: Cubs get the edge this time around.

How did the kids piss off Goose Gossage this week?

By Miami’s Derek Dietrich stripping off his uniform top after snapping an 0-20 slump with a pinch-hit walk-off triple to defeat the Cardinals on Sunday, that’s how.

Goose would go gonzo if he saw this.

Meanwhile, Goose continued to stick to his AR-15’s concerning the way baseball is heading. While addressing young players in Maine over the weekend, Gossage told the kids:

“I said my peace about bat flips and keeping the game in check. Nobody’s passing the torch to teach these kids how to act. They make so much money, they’ve got a bunch of coaches that have never been in the big leagues that just tiptoe around these guys. I was taught how to act. You act like a professional. I’ve said my peace. The game, in my opinion, is going to hell.”

Actually, based on Dietrich’s physique, it looks like the game is going to the gym.

Nine thoughts in order

1) Has there ever been a Subway Series with less sizzle than the 2016 edition of Mets v Yankees? One New York radio host said it best: this series is more like a wake. The Mets are sinking fast under the weight of incredible injury issues, and the Yankees are finally in full rebuilding mode after dealing Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Ivan Nova and Carlos Beltran. All the Yanks have now is bringing up the kids and deciding whether or not the Yanks keep Alex Rodriguez around long enough to hit his 700th home run or just release him, the latter of which is being reportedly being seriously considered.

Meanwhile, the Mets, who are clinging to National League wild card hopes, acquired Jay Bruce from the Reds, in a move that also sets up what could be one of the worst outfield defense of all-time: Yoenis Cespedes (now on the disabled list) in left field, Curtis Granderson in center and Bruce in right. If Braves fans used to pray for rain after Spahn and Sain, Mets fans better better start praying for strikeouts and ground balls on every pitch. Perhaps John McEnroe can help with that?

Give that man a contract!

2) Can the Colorado Rockies make the playoffs? It’s not beyond reasonable doubt, even without Trevor Story, who may be lost for the season after suffering ligament damage in his left thumb. The Rox, who held on to their key components at the non-waiver trade deadline, are 14-5 since the break. Most of this Rockies run has come on the road where their pitching has been far superior. In Colorado, where the staff almost always suffocates in Denver’s thin air, they’re rock bottom in team ERA rankings with a 5.98 mark. Incredibly, on the road, the Rox have given up 98 fewer runs, posting an ERA of 3.62: that’s third in the NL, in front of the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, St Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. Tyler Chatwood is 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA in nine away starts, and 4-6 with a 5.69 ERA in 10 home starts, which is ridiculous. Naturally, their biggest obstacle to reaching the season is their own stadium, where unfortunately they have 32 games remaining against 26 on the road.

3) Wednesday was D-Day for baseball and softball, in addition to sports climbing, skateboarding, surfing and karate: all endeavors being considered for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. All five made the cut, but don’t think for a minute that MLB will halt their season to send players: their brass are fully committed to making the World Baseball Classic the crown jewel of international play. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t good for the sport or the players.

4) Here’s a downer courtesy of the official Instagram of Skeeter Duffy, Matt Duffy’s large cat:

Duffy, who was sent to the Giants as part of a deal to for hurler Matt Moore, was the cat’s meow in San Francisco last season, playing the hot corner in place of the departed Pablo Sandoval. Duffy broke out, positing an unexpected .762 OPS, but hasn’t been able to match that Giant spark in 2016. Now he and Skeete, who has over 15,000 folloers on Instagram, are presumably shopping for Iams and catnip after a long transcontinental flight to Tampa, a true blow to felines in the Bay Area.

UPDATE: it’s too hot for Skeeter in Tampa, so he’s staying with Duffy’s parents.

5) Here’s a record you want no part of: the Los Angeles Dodgers, currently in second place in the NL West while leading the wild card race, have put 22 players on the disabled list this season, that after starting 2016 with 10 players on the DL. Only the 2015 New York Mets can match these sort of injury numbers, and on the bright side for LA’s fans, many of whom are in a nasty mood with Clayton Kershaw not eligible to pitch until late August, New York won the NL East.

6) Just days after putting together one of the best, if not the best bullpen in baseball, the Indians’ rotation received a blow with Danny Salazar hitting the DL with elbow inflammation. Cleveland’s righty hurler endured his shortest start to the season while getting pasted by the Twins on Monday and had what was supposed to be a precautionary MRI on Tuesday. Salazar had given up 21 runs over his last five starts after allowing just 23 runs over his first 15 starts of the season. Cleveland are trying to win their first World Series title since 1948 and are four games up on the Tigers in the AL West.

7) On the heels of the Tribe are the red hot Detroit Tigers, who have won eight straight games while getting healthy at just the right time. With a payroll of roughly $200m, the team weren’t prepared to make meaningful additions at the trade deadline, but they are getting reinforcements in the form of the activations of Jordan Zimmerman and JD Martinez from the disabled list. After being left for dead by most experts picking the Royals to repeat as AL Central champs this season, the Tigers have been hanging around thanks to a high-powered offense driven by Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and JD and Victor Martinez . Now their pitching staff are coming around with their second half ERA dropping by 1.33 to 3.14. With tough series against the Mets, Mariners, Red Sox and Rangers coming up, the next few weeks will show us how real Detroit are.

8) Joey Votto is having an interesting time with fans lately.

On Monday Joey Votto mixed it up with a guy in a Reds jersey while chasing a foul ball into the stands.

Votto apologized, but the mea culpa comes just days after he chastised a young fan who asked for his batting gloves in San Francisco.

I’m all for messing with fans as long as it’s kept light, but the Make-A-Wish Foundation crack is totally unnecessary.

9) And finally, on Tuesday, umpire Bob Davidson confronted a fan at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Davidson has a reputation for confrontation, but it seems the veteran ump got it right this time, speaking to the fan about homophobic heckling before security asked the offender to leave.

“People cheered me, said Davidson. “which is unusual in this town for me”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by David Lengel, for theguardian.com on Thursday 4th August 2016 11.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010