Sanchez states starting case in major way

After two relief appearances to open spring, rotation hopeful gets nod, goes 4 scoreless

Sanchez states starting case in major way

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- In arguably the Blue Jays' closest spring battle, Aaron Sanchez rared back Sunday and made quite the opening statement on who should grab the final spot in Toronto's starting rotation.

In his first start of the spring, Sanchez delivered numbers that were more than impressive -- four solid innings, no runs, only one hit, four strikeouts and only one walk in a 6-1 win over the Rays.

The kind of debut Sanchez was hoping for -- but listening to him, the right-hander wanted more.

Sanchez on his outing

"No problems. I'm glad I got to the fourth, I was trying to get to the fifth, but obviously Gavin [Floyd] had to throw," Sanchez said. "I'll take that. Hopefully I can build off that for my next start."

Sanchez mentioned Floyd, the veteran hurler who ironically followed him in the pitching order Sunday, as it was Sanchez who had followed Floyd earlier this spring. The 33-year-old Floyd is battling the 23-year-old Sanchez to land a coveted spot in the Blue Jays' starting rotation, but the competition is a friendly one.

"There is no tension in the clubhouse whatsoever," Sanchez said. "I ask him questions all the time."

Sanchez made a major step in his first start, but the work started back in the offseason when he teamed up with Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman for intense two-a-day workouts at Duke, where Sanchez put on 25 pounds of muscle.

It was exactly the kind of offseason routine that has helped Sanchez bounce back from a season in which he opened as a starter with a solid 3.55 ERA in 11 starts -- only to leave the rotation due to a midseason lat strain.

"I think obviously getting hurt helped me put on 25 pounds," Sanchez said. "I'm a believer in everything happens for a reason, and I couldn't be happier where I'm at right now."

"He's the one guy I thought, at the time he got injured was probably our most consistent dominating starter," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He's bigger and stronger, I think everything looks better about him."

Gibbons won't commit to where Sanchez will be when the regular season rolls around in three weeks, but Sanchez has made it no secret he doesn't want it to be in the bullpen -- even though he shined there down the stretch for Toronto and tacked on a spectacular 0.00 ERA in nine postseason appearances.

Asked if he wants to be a starter, Sanchez said: "You don't think I'm thinking starter? Absolutely I'm thinking starter.

"They know what I want to do, everybody in baseball knows what I want to do."

Mike Nabors is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.