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Gibbons taking a hard line on Blue Jays plan with Aaron Sanchez

Sep 18, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) shakes hands with relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) as they celebrate a 6-1 win over Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (5) shakes hands with relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) as they celebrate a 6-1 win over Boston Red Sox at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Blue Jays manager reiterated that Aaron Sanchez would be transitioning back to the bullpen at some point this season

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons isn’t leaving much room for hypotheticals when it comes to the team’s strategy with Aaron Sanchez. The young right-hander will be headed back to the bullpen, it’s just a matter of when.

Chisholm adds that Blue Jays management has also had discussions about moving Sanchez into the bullpen early, then stretching him back out to start down the stretch, though it “didn’t seem likely”.

With Sanchez’s performance justifying a spot in the top half of most starting rotations, this conversation is now about risk management and the long-term health of Sanchez’s arm. This also becomes a far more complex issue than a hard innings limit. At least it should.

A 2015 study from the University of Waterloo, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found no correlation between innings limits and the prevention of future injury. Workload increases of 20% year-to-year were once in style, but the pitcher’s peripheral metrics and biomechanic factors are now key.

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This is a fancier way of saying that all pitchers are different. If you and I both stand atop a major league mound and throw 110 pitches, we will produce two entirely different varieties of stresses and wear on our elbows and shoulders. With that in mind, it’s possible for you to throw 125 pitches, but me throw just 75, and us cause equal physical wear to our bodies because my mechanics and natural physical makeup are inferior to yours.

By this logic, setting a hard innings limit of 150.0 is problematic because it does not consider what type of innings, and pitches, those are.

The hope here is that Gibbons’ hard line on Sanchez does not represent an organizational hard line, and it shouldn’t. General manager Ross Atkins has cited Sanchez’s spin rate as one metric they’ll be watching, which is encouraging to hear from a member of the front office. You can also expect Toronto to be monitoring his velocity and the consistency of his mechanics. Come mid-July, will he lose 1.5 MPH off his fastball or begin dropping his shoulder in an effort to account for that?

Toronto’s high performance team, newly formed under this regime and led by the widely-respected Angus Mugford, could also play a leading role in this decision. Then there is Sanchez himself, whose own feedback will be critical to the organization.

Gibbons indicated that Drew Hutchison is in line to replace Sanchez when the time comes. The 25-year-old right-hander is 3-3 with a 3.12 ERA over 12 starts with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons, and could make some major league appearances before his full-time call-up if the Blue Jays choose to buy Sanchez added days of rest through the season. Pushing Sanchez back, or even skipping him for one trip through the rotation in favour of Hutchison, could buy the Jays more time with him in the rotation.

Next: Blue Jays will soon be facing a decision on Chris Colabello

Through his first 13 starts of 2016, Sanchez has gone 6-1 with a 3.38 ERA and struck out 8.8 batters per nine innings, well up from his 2015 total of 5.9. He’s also forced ground balls at a very high rate (58.6%) and leads all Blue Jays pitchers with a 1.7 fWAR.