Aaron Sanchez gave the Blue Jays, and some baffled Braves hitters, a closer look at the potential of his curveball in Monday’s spring training victory
Aaron Sanchez has changed a lot over the past several months, both on and off the field.
After adding over 20 pounds of bulk to his long-and-lean frame in an effort to build his endurance and durability, Sanchez has set his sights on claiming the fifth spot in the Blue Jays starting rotation.
It’s a crowded competition that, for my dollar, the 23-year-old is beginning to pull away from early this spring.
Pitching against the Atlanta Braves on Monday, who admittedly don’t come with 2:1 World Series odds, Sanchez went 3.0 strong innings allowing one run on five hits and striking out three. It was his curveball, though, that really popped.
“That was our game plan: Throw the curveball early,” Sanchez told Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun. “When I first went in I had too much adrenaline and it wasn’t that good. It was super sharp. When I started to get the release point, it became a good weapon for me. Our main focus: If you start that thing early, they have to respect velocity late and it showed today.”
That last part is critical, because if Sanchez is going to excel late in his starts and push through that seventh inning, he needs some diversity in his pitches. This, more than anything (well, that midseason injury too), has been what’s held back Sanchez from truly establishing himself in the rotation.
Sanchez threw this curveball nearly 15% of the time in 2015, relying instead on a fastball that he threw on nearly 80% of his pitches and a rarely-used changeup.
That can work in the bullpen. It can even work for the first two trips through a batting order, if he’s really clicking. But not a third.
Already hitting 98 miles-per-hour with his fastball, something that his increased bulk should help him to maintain throughout starts, establishing this curveball early in games and using it throughout should keep hitters honest. With that, a hitter’s knees become uncertain, and they’re unable to lock their lower body into attack-mode for a heater.
“I’m out there executing pitches,” Sanchez told Fidlin. “That’s a testament to everything I’ve done this off-season, putting into place and feeling great. We’ll see. I’ll continue to hammer things out in the weight room and hopefully this stays all year long.”