Blue Jays take controversial loss following Sanchez gem

Apr 5, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The bullpen may have blown it and cost him the win, and the Toronto Blue Jays may have lost their first game of the year in controversial fashion, but the performance of Aaron Sanchez softened the blow and brought dreams of the future.

One of the biggest storylines throughout spring training was if Sanchez should be a starter or reliever. He’s had good success at the big-league level as a reliever, but he has been clear in his desire to start. That’s how the Blue Jays have viewed it from the time they drafted him.

So the pressure was on the 23-year-old to prove he belongs in the rotation. And it couldn’t have gone much better for Sanchez, who threw seven great innings for Toronto, leaving with a 2-1 lead. The hard-throwing right-hander gave up just one earned run on five hits. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out eight. It was the best possible scenario for a guy who won his case for the starting rotation by pitching a great spring.

The game was a story of two strong pitching performances from Sanchez and Tampa Bay’s Jake Odorizzi.

Although Odorizzi seemed to be striking out Blue Jays left and right, it was Jose Bautista who helped get the Jays on the board. Bautista tripled on an opposite-field hit that probably would have been a double had Tampa right-fielder Steven Souza Jr. not foolishly dived for it. Bautista then scored on Edwin Encarnacion‘s ground ball, which Odorizzi threw away. Michael Saunders then singled in Encarnacion after he advanced to second on the error.

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The only mistake for Sanchez came leading off the bottom of the fourth, when Corey Dickerson hammered one out of Tropicana Field for the second time this series. But Sanchez bounced back very nicely, retiring the next 12 batters he saw before exiting the game after the seventh inning.

Skipper John Gibbons turned to the almost always reliable Brett Cecil in the eighth inning, but it didn’t go the way nearly every Cecil outing has gone since June of last year. Cecil hit Kevin Kiermaier with a pitch and one out later, Logan Forsythe gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead with a homerun to right. It ended Cecil’s record-tying streak of appearances without allowing an earned run, which dated back to June 21 against Baltimore.

Fast forward to the ninth inning, the focus of controversy over a new rule. The Blue Jays loaded the bases with one out for Encarnacion. He hit a ground ball to third, which was then flipped to second for the force out. Bautista slid into second in what appeared to be a legal way, but his hand tripped up Forsythe’s foot, which I’m guessing is the reason for the controversy. Forsythe’s throw to first was off, Encarnacion was safe and two runs came in to temporarily give the Jays a 4-3 lead. Rays manager Kevin Cash asked for a video replay and it was quickly overturned, calling it a double play. Just like that, the game was unceremoniously over and the Jays lost their first game of 2016.

Game Notes:

  • Russell Martin threw out Brad Miller attempting to steal second base in the second inning, continuing his dominance from behind the plate. Martin is 2-for-2 throwing out runners in this opening series.
  • Edwin Encarnacion just missed a three-run homerun to left in the first inning, ultimately flying out to the warning track. The parrot walk will have to wait.
  • Jose Bautista snapped his 0-for-13 against Odorizzi with his fourth-inning triple, his first triple since August 22 of last year.
  • Josh Donaldson struck out three times tonight, and has K’d seven times in his first three games. Obviously, we shouldn’t expect that rate to continue. Donaldson only struck out 133 times last year.
  • The iron man streak is over: Brett Cecil gave up his first earned run since June 21 of last year. He had tied Craig Kimbrel‘s 2001 record for 38 straight regular-season games without giving up an earned run. But hey, maybe he can start a new streak.
  • The game’s ending was one of the first casualties of the new neighbourhood play rule. The rule itself isn’t necessarily new, but it is now video reviewable. The idea is that the player sliding into second has to begin his slide before reaching second base and can’t change the pathway of his slide in order to initiate contact with the fielder. It didn’t look like Bautista did that, but clearly the powers that be thought he did.

“A+”. It’s largely covered in the story, but let me reiterate how strong of a start this was for Sanchez. He bulked up in the offseason with the intention of becoming a better starter and so far it’s working. Sanchez mixed his pitches well tonight. My favourite moment was in the bottom of the third when he ran into some trouble. With runners on first and second and only one out, Sanchez induced a weak grounder from <strong><a href=. . . STARTING PITCHING

. . RELIEF PITCHING . “B-”. The Blue Jays bullpen should be strong this year, but it won’t be perfect. Brett Cecil blew Sanchez’s start by giving up the lead to a right-handed batter. Chavez and Morales got out of the inning after that, but the damage was done. 

“B”. It wasn’t the usual homer-happy bunch tonight, but the Jays got hits from every part of their lineup. But they weren’t able to capitalize on their opportunities, going 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position. But that might also be attributed to Odorizzi’s 10 strikeouts, many in key situations.  . . . OFFENCE

MVJ: Jose Bautista – walked twice, tripled and scored a run