You wouldn’t know by looking at the box score but Aaron Sanchez pitched very well on Friday for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Baltimore Orioles. In what was his third start of spring training, Sanchez gave up five hits and two earned runs over three and one-third innings.
However only one pitch, a hanging curveball to Henry Urrutia in the second inning, was hit hard as several of the soft grounders he allowed didn’t even make it past the mound. He tallied just one strikeout but the swinging bunts he was inducing against a rather weak Orioles’ lineup was arguably just as impressive.
As it turns out, his strong performance wasn’t the most exciting part of yesterday afternoon’s game. Early in the outing Sanchez debuted a new pitch, referred to as both a slider and cutter on the air by colour commentator Joe Siddall. It was tough to tell from the television camera angle but based on velocity and movement I think Siddall was correct in identifying it as a cutter (or if you prefer, slutter).
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The cutter, or cut-fastball, is a modified fastball that moves towards a pitcher’s glove side, or “cuts” either towards an opposite sided hitter or away from a same-sided bat. Thanks to Mariano Rivera, I don’t think this explanation is necessary but after listening to Mike Wilner on the radio this offseason one can never be too sure.
The pitch didn’t show much depth and was thrown at close to 95 MPH, which is why I’m referring to it as a cutter and not a slider. Unless you are Matt Harvey or Carlos Rodon, a good slider doesn’t usually sit in the low-90’s. There’s a chance Sanchez adds some depth to the offering and it develops into a true out pitch, which in that case look out, but the cutter serves it’s own specific purpose if he wants to succeed as a starting pitcher.
I wrote about the possibility of Sanchez picking up a cutter back in October with a post that started as a forced comparison to Yordano Ventura but ended with the realization Lance Lynn is probably a better comparison, at least when it comes to potential pitch usage. An excerpt from that piece:
"Adding a cutter to Sanchez’s diet is another option, which would make a change almost unnecessary if he could rely on his curveball as a batting-missing, change of pace pitch. But let’s not worry about that for now."
According to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet, Sanchez said his changeup felt tremendous yesterday and it’s still a key pitch for him to keep hitters, especially lefties, off balance. However I’m sticking to my guns and think his change doesn’t need to be any better than average if he can develop an effective cutter.
For right-handed pitchers a good cut fastball will take the sting out the bat of a left-handed hitter, much the way a sinker is difficult to square up for players batting right. If he can develop both pitches as effective weapons, he should be able to attack hitters from both sides of the plate with a mix of fastballs that break both ways. His curveball and changeup can then become more complementary offerings.
Worth noting, Sanchez didn’t throw more than a handful of cutters/sliders on Friday and the ones he did let go seemed to be overthrown. For what it’s worth, Josh (@House4545) of Blue Jays Plus was at the game and said the pitch looked better during warmups so it’s possible with more repetition he can figure out a more consistent release.
Even before their projected number one pitcher went down, the plan was to have Sanchez stretched out to compete for the fifth spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Now with not just one but two spots suddenly open, it seems a nearly foregone conclusion Sanchez’s name will be penciled into the starting five when camp breaks. How quickly (and effectively) he’s able to learn this new pitch could go a long way in determining his success as a starter.