Toronto Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker talks to starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez at the end of the first inning of their American League MLB baseball game against the Houston Astros in Toronto. Sanchez felt like he was running in quicksand last season. Coming off a breakout 2016 campaign where he led the American League in earned-run average and got his first all-star nod, the right-hander was on the mound for just 36 innings as a blister and nail issues on the middle finger of his pitching hand forced him to the disabled list four times before he was shut down in September. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Jays starter Aaron Sanchez hopes blister saga behind him after 2017 ‘disaster’

BURNABY, B.C. — Aaron Sanchez felt like he was trying to run in quicksand last season.

Coming off a breakout campaign where the Toronto Blue Jays starter led the American League in earned-run average and got his first all-star nod, 2017 was marred by blister and nail issues on the middle finger of his pitching hand.

The baffling injury that first bubbled to the surface in April landed Sanchez on the disabled list four times before the hard-throwing right-hander was shut down for good in September with the club playing out the string.

Sanchez threw just 36 innings with a 1-3 record and a 4.25 earned-run average — a far cry from the 15-2 mark and AL-best 3.00 ERA he put up in 2016.

“It was just one thing after another that we really couldn’t control,” the 25-year-old said Friday. ”It went from trying to get ahead (of the injury) to falling way behind.”

Speaking with reporters in the basement of an elementary school before a Blue Jays’ winter tour event in suburban Vancouver, the six-foot-four, 215-pound Sanchez said having a seemingly minor issue derail his entire season was hard to comprehend.

“The frustrating part for me was it being so little, being so tiny,” he said. “It could be worse. It could be other body parts on me that affect my career.

“I’m pretty confident that my finger, the way it is, will be fine this year. I’ll have to maintain it like I have in years past, but no more of the disaster that it had last year.”

That maintenance includes making sure his finger nail — which had a piece surgically removed in the first month of the 2017 season — is the right length, and that the skin isn’t too hard or too soft.

“A lot of it is friction and force from the game,” Sanchez said in describing how the blister occurred. ”Humidity plays a big factor … there’s so many different factors.

“Hopefully we can get this all fixed and move on.”

Fellow starter Marco Estrada, who is on the winter tour with Sanchez, first baseman Justin Smoak and outfielder Dalton Pompey, said it was tough to see his young teammate deal with the maddening injury.

“To watch one of your friends go down like that and not be able to pitch sucks,” said the 34-year-old right-hander. ”It’s not something you want to see for anybody, but when someone is that close you try to pull for him even harder.

“He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. To miss a guy like that basically the entire year hurt us a lot. Obviously it showed in our record (76-86).”

Sanchez, who avoided arbitration Friday by signing a one-year deal worth US$2.7 million, began throwing in early December and is confident he’ll be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report for spring training Feb. 14.

“I feel great,” said the native of Barstow, Calif. ”They wanted six to 10 weeks (off). I took 13, so I’m in a great place. My body feels great. I’m excited to hopefully be back on the field.”

Sanchez is looking forward to returning to the mound to not only help his team, but also continue honing his craft after what amounted to a lost year.

“I didn’t forget how to pitch,” he said. ”It’s just about filling up the strike zone, working on the pitches I feel like I need to improve on.

“It’s just going in and refining everything I know.”

He’s also eager to get back competing. Asked about the New York Yankees and their powerful lineup that added slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who led the majors with 59 home runs in 2017, in a trade with the Miami Marlins to go along with Aaron Judge’s 52 homers, Sanchez didn’t waver.

“I ain’t worried. It’s all paper right now,” he said. ”They’ve still got to go out and hit, you’ve still got to go out and perform. I’ll be ready just as much as they will and we’ll go compete.”

And after last season’s finger frustration, that’s all Sanchez really wants.

“I’m a pretty positive guy,” he said. ”I’m not going to let this derail me in what I’m trying to accomplish in this game and in my career.”

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