TORONTO — Aaron Sanchez looked down at his finger and saw the blood a handful of pitches into his start.
All he could think about then was finishing the inning. So he did.
Sanchez threw 13 pitches, erasing a five-pitch leadoff walk with a strikeout and a double play before leaving Toronto’s 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday with a split nail on his right middle finger.
Once in the dugout, the 24-year-old Sanchez slammed his glove down on the bench in frustration and headed straight into the clubhouse with pitching coach Pete Walker.
“It was just a lot of pressure, stinging underneath the nail,” said Sanchez, who was activated from the 10-day disabled list earlier in the day.
“It’s like somebody grabbing your nail and ripping it out. It doesn’t feel good, but it’s just something we have to battle now.”
Sanchez had landed on the disabled list two weeks ago with a blister on the same finger and underwent a procedure to remove part of the nail from it.
The nail split horizontally. The procedure, done by a specialist in Kansas City, had cut the nail vertically to remove a quarter of it.
“Leading into today we didn’t think this would be an issue,” Sanchez said. “I think once you get into game mode and game speed, pressure on the nail starts to disperse in certain areas and maybe it wasn’t strong enough, honestly we don’t know.”
Sanchez also doesn’t know if he’ll have to miss his next start. The team hopes to have a better understanding on Monday after some of the swelling subsides.
In Sanchez’s absence, an unlikely hero emerged as Toronto’s bullpen, especially Ryan Tepera, helped the Blue Jays (8-17) earn their first set of back-to-back wins — and first series win — of the season.
Tepera came on in the second and cruised through 3 1/3 innings — Tampa didn’t get a hit until Ryan Miller’s leadoff single in the fifth. He had a career-high five strikeouts and left with one out in the fifth to a standing ovation from the crowd of 42,986 at Rogers Centre.
“Coming into the game I had a different mindset knowing I’d have to go multiple innings,” Tepera said. “So I told myself: ’Stay nice and easy and fluid and don’t overthrow.’ I realized it’s easier to just stay smooth and go with the delivery.
“I was able to throw the four-seam up and that was a big key for me today. That’s something that I struggle with. I either throw it way too high or it gets in the zone. So just staying nice and easy and executing pitches, it helped.”
Sanchez praised his bullpen, which has struggled lately, with holding Tampa to one run over eight innings.
Aaron Loup followed Tepera with two frames, Dominic Leone went 2/3, Joe Smith started the eighth and allowed a run before J.P. Howell (1-1) got the inning’s final out, and Roberto Osuna earned the save.
“Today (the bullpen) showed everybody who they really are and we got this big win,” Sanchez said. “Great defence behind them, timely hitting. It’s tough for me to put these guys through that but it’s just one of those situations where you didn’t know this was going to happen and they stepped up and did their part.”
The game remained scoreless until David Robertson hit a sacrifice bunt off Smith in the eighth to plate Logan Morrison from third base. Morrison walked to begin the inning and moved to third after a single and pop fly.
Jose Bautista began Toronto’s rally in the bottom of the inning with his 1,000th hit as a Blue Jay — a game-tying double off reliever Alex Colome (1-1) that nearly cleared the left-field wall.
Russell Martin followed with a base hit to right field for his fifth RBI of the season and pinch-hitter Ezequiel Carrera tacked on a run-scoring single.
“I’ll get to enjoy (the 1,000-hit milestone) when my career’s over,” Bautista said. “Hopefully I’ll get some more, but it does bring you back to the long time I’ve been here and the success that I’ve enjoyed.
“It’s always fun when you can do it when you are contributing to a win.”
Chris Archer allowed one run on four hits through 7 1/3 innings for Tampa Bay (12-14). He also had five strikeouts.
Home plate umpire Jim Wolf issued a warning to Archer after his first pitch to Bautista sailed behind the Blue Jays slugger in the first inning. Bautista glared down at Archer from the batter’s box for what felt like an eternity.
Bautista said after the game he “didn’t know” if there was intent behind Archer’s throw. Archer said there wasn’t.
“I was just trying to go inside,” he said. ”The ball got away from me a little bit.”