DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The assumption for more than a week has been that Aaron Sanchez will end up in the starting rotation, and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons all but officially confirmed that development on Thursday morning.
The expectation at the start of camp was for Sanchez to at least share the closer duties with left-hander Brett Cecil, but that plan changed when Marcus Stroman suffered a season-ending knee injury. A major void in the rotation was created, and the hope is that Sanchez will fill it.
The Blue Jays have yet to announce their starting staff, but when Gibbons was asked about whether his club was still considering Sanchez for the bullpen, he gave an honest and straight-to-the-point response.
"I think he's pretty much locked into where he is now," Gibbons said a couple of hours before Sanchez got the start in a spring game vs. Boston. "That could change, but I would be very surprised by that."
Sanchez's presence in the rotation provides a little bit more clarity to the overall configuration of the roster and leaves left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Marco Estrada competing for the final spot in the starting five.
The 22-year-old Sanchez made an almost flawless Major League debut as a reliever last season. He allowed four runs and struck out 27 over 33 innings and partially stole the closer's job away from the since-departed Casey Janssen.
The only problem with Sanchez's success is that it came with predominantly one pitch. Sanchez almost exclusively threw his fastball, and there wasn't much need for his changeup or sweeping curveball. He'll require reliable secondary pitches in order to take the next step as a starter, and that's one reason why the native of California recently added a slider to his repertoire.
The slider made its debut last week during a start against the Orioles and will remain a point of emphasis during the remainder of camp. Gibbons believes it gives him another pitch that he'll be able to command more consistently than the sometimes unpredictable curveball.
"He has that hard breaking ball, that curveball, and sometimes that's hit or miss," Gibbons said. "When you throw that hard, that's not unusual, it's a big breaker. So the slider gives him something else that he can throw over at will more often if he needs a get-me-over pitch if the curveball isn't there that night.
"It's a work in progress; it might take him some time to develop it. He threw a few the last time out; we saw the makings of a pretty good one. It's just going to make his job easier. The slider is much easier to control. A lot of guys who throw a high percentage of curveballs usually have some finesse to them. He doesn't have any finesse, that's just not who he is."