Those darn blisters.
Aaron Sanchez had all the makings of the next Blue Jays franchise ace. He was tall, standing 6-foot-4 on the mound. He had a great curveball and a mid-90s sinking fastball. As a 22-year-old rookie in 2014, he gave up just four runs in 33 innings. The future was bright for the California kid.
The Blue Jays advanced all the way to the ALCS in 2015, erasing a two-game ALDS deficit against the Texas Rangers. They probably wouldn’t have gotten there if not for Sanchez. As the shutdown man the Blue Jays called out of the bullpen, Sanchez didn’t surrender a run over nine appearances that postseason. He was unhittable.
In 2016, Sanchez came into his own as he transitioned into a full-time role in the starting rotation. Over an eight-start stretch in the middle of the season, he gave up just 10 earned runs in 54 innings and went 5-0. He started the Oct. 2 game against the Red Sox when the Blue Jays clinched their second consecutive playoff berth, giving up just two hits and one run over seven innings.
Sanchez finished the year 15-2 with a 3.00 ERA. He was the first Blue Jays starter to win the ERA title since Roger Clemens in 1998. The last AL pitcher to win at least 15 games while losing two or fewer was Randy Johnson in the strike-shortened 1995 season; no other pitcher in MLB history had done it while starting at least 30 games. Only four other pitchers had a higher winning percentage in a season in which they also won the ERA title: Johnson, Greg Maddux, Ron Guidry, and Lefty Grove.
Sanchez made the first of what looked like it would be many All-Star Game appearances that season. But 2016 proved to be the height of his career, and it was due to one simple reason: those darn blisters.
Blisters form due to the constant contact between fingernails, skin, and the leather of a baseball. Over time, it can make throwing a baseball extremely painful and uncomfortable. And that’s what happened to Sanchez beginning in 2017.
Sanchez missed most of May and all of June due to blister issues on his middle finger. He left a start on July 19 in Boston after just four innings and missed the rest of the season. He made just eight starts that season. While he recovered to make 20 starts in 2018, the discomfort had taken away his control. Sanchez walked nearly five batters per nine innings, fourth-worst among all pitchers with at least 100 innings.
Sanchez wasn’t alone in experiencing blister issues during that time. Even teammate Marcus Stroman had to leave a start due to blisters. According to a 2017 article by Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer, MLB pitchers missed a collective 200 days because of blisters in both 2016 and 2017.
“It’s just one of those things, man. I can’t control it. It’s definitely frustrating. It’s one of those things where you take a step forward, you think you’re past it and you’re right back to square one,” Sanchez said after making his last appearance in 2017. “It’s something that I’ve dealt with for a year and a half now, two years almost. I thought I went through that point where I did try everything. I went and even got surgery, had my nail cut out to kind of prevent this and it keeps coming back.”
The Blue Jays traded Sanchez to the Houston Astros at the deadline in 2019. By that time, Sanchez was winless over his last 17 starts with a 7.49 ERA over that span, nearly two runs worse than any other qualified starting pitcher.
In 79 games since he was unbeatable and unhittable in 2016, Sanchez is 14-28 with a 5.29 ERA. Even though he’s still just 30 years old, Sanchez’s time as a dominant starting pitcher with so much promise seems like just a distant memory.
All because of those darn blisters.