The last time we heard from Aaron Sanchez he was agitated in Anaheim, launching a broadside at his teammates over what he felt was a dereliction of duty.
It was last week, when the Toronto Blue Jays appeared to be going through the motions during a three-game sweep by the Los Angeles Angels.
“It’s not fun when you go out there and guys just weren’t ready to play,” Sanchez said last Thursday after the Blue Jays lost 6-2, a game in which he started and allowed four runs off nine hits in four innings.
It is unusual to see public emotion from star athletes too often caught up in the “we’ve got to give 100-per-cent effort” mantra. The downside is, Sanchez put himself on the hot seat to live up to his words the next time he pitched – which was on Tuesday night when he got the start against the Minnesota Twins at Rogers Centre.
Sanchez survived a shaky start to acquit himself well but he was facing a tough adversary in Jose Berrios, the Minnesota starter who was the last person a team hoping to string together some hits wanted to face.
The end result was a 3-0 victory by the American League Central-leading Twins (22-12), their second consecutive shutout victory over the Blue Jays (15-21), who have lost four in a row and seven of their past eight.
And it was another rough night at the plate for rookie prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Toronto third baseman, who was 1-for-4, with a hit in his final at-bat.
The Twins will try for the sweep in the series finale Wednesday night.
Sanchez issued a bases-loaded walk in the first inning to force in the first Minnesota run, regrouped and kept his team close until Mitch Garver took him deep for a two-run home run in the sixth.
“I was really impressed [with Sanchez],” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said afterwards. “He minimized damage in the first inning and started throwing strikes and getting people out early in the count. He was outstanding. He gave us a chance.”
The Blue Jays were caught off guard by Sanchez’s outburst last week, and dealt with it behind closed doors. Montoyo passed it off as a boys-will-be-boys type of thing.
“Heat of the moment, that’s how I saw it,” Montoyo said when asked about it before Tuesday’s game. “He was upset about everything. But we already dealt with that, we already talked about it and he talked to his teammates and stuff so everything’s fine.”
On the heels of a lacklustre showing Monday, in which the Jays struck out 10 times and could only muster three hits in an 8-0 drubbing by the Twins, the Blue Jays did what any self-respecting team does in similar circumstances: they held a hitter’s meeting before Tuesday’s game.
The Blue Jays are desperate to get their bats going, hitting .197 over their previous seven games (losing six), averaging just 2.3 runs an outing. It is the second time this season the hitters have convened to talk about their shortcomings.
“We still haven’t made the adjustment,” Montoyo said, repeating a familiar refrain.
Toronto responded by totalling six hits compared with eight by the Twins.
The strong start that Sanchez was hoping for did not materialize as he allowed two singles in the first inning and then loaded the bases with a walk.
He then issued a second free pass to Marwin Gonzalez that forced in a run for a 1-0 Twins lead.
Still, Sanchez (3-3) was gratified by his start – surrendering all three Minnesota runs off six hits with six strikeouts through seven innings, his longest outing of the season.
“That’s my job, that’s what I’m here to do,” Sanchez said of pitching seven innings. “It’s nice.”
Working from behind is not something the Blue Jays wanted to do against Berrios, who is off to a lightning-fast 5-1 over his first seven starts, with a 2.91 earned-run average.
Montoyo referred to him as one of baseball’s best, and Berrios appeared to be that early on, mowing down Blue Jays hitters in order through the first two innings before Brandon Drury swatted a single leading off the third.
Berrios (6-1) was tough and won his fifth consecutive start. He allowed four hits over seven innings with five strikeouts to hold the Blue Jays off the scoreboard.
The Twins nursed their one-run lead into the sixth where Garver provided some wiggle room, crushing a 3-1 fastball by Sanchez into the second deck in left field, a two-run homer that lifted Minnesota in front 3-0.
The Twins have homered in 25 of 34 games this season.