Better late: Sanchez to return at back end of 'pen

Jays hoping for formidable trio once right-hander is activated

Better late: Sanchez to return at back end of 'pen

OAKLAND -- The Blue Jays hope they have turned the bullpen from a weakness into a strength following this week's decision to make right-hander Aaron Sanchez a late-inning reliever.

One pitcher isn't going to come in and completely save the day, but he does give Toronto a much different look at the back end of the 'pen. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons envisions a scenario in which he will consistently call upon Sanchez, Roberto Osuna and Bo Schultz to close out tight ballgames.

That could go a long way in helping to shorten the game for the starting rotation. There won't be as much of a need to get seven or eight innings out of each starter and the club could instead settle for six before handing things off to what the Blue Jays hope becomes a lockdown trio of arms.

"Me personally, I can't speak for those other guys, looking over the last couple of months, I'm the one making the decision on who's coming out of the bullpen and I can just envision him really shoring that up," Gibbons said.

"Simply because of what Osuna has turned out to be, what Schultzy has done. I didn't think Schultzy was going to be this good, this fast. So really I think it's just an extra piece that can make us that much stronger down there and lock up some of those games that we haven't been able to do to this point."

Sanchez (lat strain) is currently wrapping up a rehab assignment with Triple-A Buffalo and Gibbons said he could return to the big league roster as soon as Thursday afternoon. In what might have been his final appearance for the Bisons on Tuesday night, Sanchez allowed two runs on one hit and two walks. Both of the runs scored on passed balls and were unearned.

The decision to move Sanchez to the bullpen finally puts an end to the constant speculation about his role, at least for this year. He arrived in Spring Training as someone who was getting stretched out to start but was still expecting to pitch in relief.

That plan changed when right-hander Marcus Stroman went down with a serious knee surgery that likely has him out for the season. That created a need for another starter and Sanchez was quickly named as Stroman's replacement, but the coaching staff's desire to have him in the bullpen never really seemed to go away.

"I think there was some talk about what his best role was, even early in the season as a starter," Gibbons said. "Then all of a sudden he really started coming on, he was very reliable. In the back of your mind, we tried to stretch him into a complete game the day he got injured.

"You have to be conscious of that, and if that's the case, is he a five-six inning guy? I basically looked at it, my thinking on it, was really strengthen one area and make that a strength for us and maybe we can close out some games much easier."

When Sanchez returns he is expected to take the spot of either Ryan Tepera or Steve Delabar. Right-hander Liam Hendriks has become the long reliever while lefties Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup will occasionally be used in setup roles plus also pitching when Toronto is trailing late in games.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.