Aaron Sanchez has had what he calls "an up-and-down season." It began bright with promise for the Blue Jays top prospect in Class A Advanced Dunedin, but was derailed by a shoulder injury that kept him out a month. He then battled through a frustrating rehab and the unpredictable late-summer Florida weather.
After all of that, Sanchez has been thrilled to be fully healthy and pitching on a regular schedule in the Arizona Fall League. It doesn't hurt that the right-hander is dominating the league, either.
Sanchez threw five no-hit innings and struck out eight batters Friday in Salt River's 3-1 victory against Peoria at Surprise Stadium. The victory kept the Rafters a half game out of first place in the East Division with five games to play.
Sanchez, ranked No. 20 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list, has allowed just three runs on five hits in 18 1/3 innings this fall. He has struck out 18 batters and walked nine. He started the Fall Stars Game for the East Division last Saturday.
Sanchez said he simply stuck to his game plan against the Javelinas.
"For me, it was just attacking hitters," he said. "My game is to get early contact and to try to get late in the game. I just fed off that. Everything was working well."
Sanchez's lone blemish Friday came with two outs in the fifth inning. After retiring the first 14 batters of the game, he hit Aaron Altherr with a pitch. Sanchez then committed two throwing errors, one on a pickoff and one on a ground ball, allowing Altherr to score.
But Sanchez finished the inning without further incident. It was the second time this year he has had a start of five no-hit innings. He also did so April 11, in his second start of the season at Dunedin.
Sanchez said doing it in the prestigious setting of the AFL made Friday more meaningful.
"Obviously, you're here with the best bunch in Minor League ball, so to do that here is special," he said. "It gives me more confidence. It only gets better from here."
The no-hitter ended in the sixth inning when Austin Hedges hit a two-out single off Dean Keikhefer. The Javelinas finished the game with four hits, but were unable to score any more runs.
The Rafters got all the offense they needed before Sanchez even took the mound in the first inning. James Ramsey led off the game with a home run off right-hander Jason Adam. Three batters later, Kyle Parker hit a two-run home run, giving Salt River a 3-0 lead.
After the first inning, Adam, the Royals' No. 18 prospect, and four relievers held Salt River to one hit the rest of the game. But the damage had already been done.
With a week left in the season, Sanchez said Salt River knows it is neck and neck with Mesa in the East Division standings. But he said the Rafters are trying to continue approaching the game the same way.
"We see where we're at in the standings," Sanchez said. "But I don't think it will change the way we play the game."
Sanchez will make one more start in the AFL. He said his experience this fall has given him more confidence as he continues to move toward the Major Leagues.
After his success pitching against some of the best prospects in baseball, Sanchez said has learned he can be effective just by being himself.
"Just not to let off the gas pedal and attack hitters the way you'd do in Low A or Rookie ball," Sanchez said. "Now that I'm able to throw my offspeed for strikes, it's going to be a lot of fun."