SEATTLE -- The Blue Jays finally added a big piece to their bullpen on Saturday afternoon as right-hander Aaron Sanchez made his long-awaited return following a six-week absence.
Sanchez was activated from the disabled list prior to Saturday's game against the Mariners while right-hander Steve Delabar became the odd-man out and was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo. Sanchez entered Saturday's game in the eighth inning and pitched around a single to record a groundout and two lineouts, one of which was snared by Josh Donaldson to end the inning in the Blue Jays' 8-6 win.
The 23-year-old Sanchez began the year in the starting rotation, but this time around, he'll be pitching out of the 'pen. He's going to be used in high-leverage situations late in games, and there's even a possibility that Sanchez will either share or eventually take over closer duties from rookie Roberto Osuna.
"At first, you've rehabbed the entire time as a starter, and then all of a sudden it changes a little bit, so in that sense, it was kind of like, 'Man, what are we doing here?'" said Sanchez, who began his rehab assignment from a strained lat by working as a starter before transitioning to the 'pen earlier this week.
"But I understand. I'm here, I'm here to help this team win games, and if [manager John Gibbons] and the organization feels that me being in the bullpen is going to help this team win games, then I'm all for it."
This is the second consecutive year that Sanchez has transitioned to the bullpen. When he made his Major League debut last July, it was in a reliever's role. But while Sanchez is expected to resume his starter's role in the long term, the Blue Jays have desperately searched for another reliable bullpen arm in the short term, and they hope Sanchez proves to be the internal solution.
That's a realistic expectation after Sanchez thrived out of the bullpen during the second half of 2014. He posted a sparkling 1.09 ERA, while striking out 27 over 33 innings, and he took the closer's job away from veteran Casey Janssen.
The biggest positive from Sanchez's run as a reliever was that he was able to limit the number of walks. He has been known to battle control problems, and there was a time earlier this year when the native of California led the Major Leagues in free passes.
Sanchez did walk five batters over five innings with Triple-A Buffalo prior to his return to the Blue Jays, but there were some mitigating factors. A pair of passed balls charged to catcher Sean Ochinko didn't help, and in his first relief appearance, he walked one but didn't allow a hit.
"Honestly, I don't think my command was that bad when I was down there," said Sanchez, who allowed five runs in 9 2/3 Minor League rehab innings. "My first time out of the 'pen, I had a couple of cross-ups between the catcher, and it kind of looked a little worse than what it really was.
"I came back out there in my last outing a couple of days ago and everything was good. Velocity was there, pitches were there. I'm excited, I'm ready to go."