TORONTO — Reliever Aaron Sanchez hasn’t lost his job as the Toronto Blue Jays’ setup man. He’ll just have some company in the role.
Manager John Gibbons said the young right-hander was told before Tuesday’s game that he may instead be used earlier in the game rather than primarily in his eighth-inning spot. Veterans Mark Lowe and Brett Cecil will join Sanchez in setting up closer Roberto Osuna in the ninth.
“I’m not worried about Sanchez, (he’s) fine,” Gibbons said. “He’s done a tremendous job for us this year, last year, that hasn’t changed.”
The 23-year-old right-hander had settled into the setup role nicely over the last couple months, but has struggled of late. Sanchez relieved David Price on Monday night against the New York Yankees but lasted only two batters — giving up a leadoff walk and a single — before Gibbons pulled him.
Cecil came on and gave up an RBI single before recording three straight strikeouts to get out of the jam. The Blue Jays won the pivotal game 4-2 to move 3 1/2 games up on the second-place Yankees in the American League East.
Gibbons may give Sanchez work in the sixth or seventh inning depending on the matchup and situation.
“You keep throwing him out there,” he said. “He’s been so good for so long. I mean he’s a baby still in the big leagues but he’s had some pretty good success in that role. You pick your spots and give him a little breathing room.
“And a good outing usually sets guys up, the good ones — that’s all it takes.”
Cecil struggled early in the season when he served as closer before the emergence of Osuna, but he has been tremendous in the second half. Lowe has also been strong, with his 1.53 earned-run average (entering play Tuesday) fourth-best among American League relievers.
Sanchez, who made 11 starts earlier in the year, has a 7-6 mark over 36 appearances with a 3.38 ERA. He has an 8.44 ERA over his last seven appearances and is averaging almost one walk an inning over that stretch.
“If you look at the history of the game, I don’t think anybody who’s ever pitched in this game had a zero ERA,” Gibbons said. “Guys get hit. You’re facing great hitters on the other side. It’s like when a reliever from another team comes in and faces our lineup, gives up some home runs and stuff, that’s just baseball.
“That’s (been) baseball for 100 years.”
Gibbons remains confident that Sanchez will return to form and be ready to contribute as needed.
“We’ll get him back on track,” he said. “He is very confident but he’s also human. He’s in a little rough patch.”
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press