John Gibbons and the Blue Jays went back to the well on Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna Monday night despite their weekend struggles. Rightfully so. Sanchez ran into trouble again, though, and had to be bailed out by Brett Cecil, whose recent stretch of dominance was topped off by a three-strikeout statement inning, one of the biggest from any Blue Jays pitcher this year. Perhaps there could be some permanence to this move.
Sanchez was overthrowing, causing his release point to become very inconsistent. I always come back to the same point with the young right-hander: he’s got the stuff to succeed while throwing it over the plate. As Sanchez nibbles the corners and looks for the perfect pitch, he limits himself substantially.
The past ten days have not been kind to Sanchez as he’s struggled to find the strike zone and missed fewer bats. Over his past five outings stretching back to the Blue Jays series in New York, Sanchez has lasted just 3.1 innings while allowing five earned runs on nine hits and four walks. Luck hasn’t been his greatest ally, but something is off here, and the Blue Jays no longer have the benefit of time.
With October tiptoeing closer, Brett Cecil remains the most dominant Blue Jays reliever. April proved that the closer’s role is not for him, and may never be, but his performance of late profiles him as a dominant 8th-inning setup man.
If this were mid-June, Toronto could exercise patience and let the waters settle themselves, but especially with the Yankees in town and the Royals within their sights, little time remains for “figuring it out as we go”. Everything lines up to point in the direction of Cecil supplanting Sanchez, but still, I hesitate to jump fully behind it.
The beauty of Cecil is that he gives the Jays a closer’s dominance in the situation of their choosing. As a moveable chess piece through the bullpen, Cecil could very well be Toronto’s most important reliever come playoff time due to his ability to stop an offense dead, much like we saw on Monday night. There will come a time where the Blue Jays need an out, a scenario with a runner on third and just one out, and Cecil is the man for that job. The problem is, that scenario won’t always wait for the 8th inning.
Let’s not jump ship on Sanchez so quickly, but Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins (if healthy) both have the talent to fill that role if it becomes necessary. In games where Cecil is not needed until the 8th, then it lines up perfectly, but Toronto cannot afford to save Cecil for later when the game’s highest-leverage situation presents itself in the 6th or 7th.
Over the five games detailed above, Sanchez does come with an opponent BABIP of .563, meaning over half of the balls put in play against him are falling for a hit or squeaking through the infield. The leash has to be short now, but there’s still something there. Cecil may be too valuable to put into a defined role, though, leaving Gibbons with some decisions to make over the next two weeks.