NEWS
01/19/2016 15:47 EST | Updated 01/19/2017 00:12 EST

Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez hopes to return to starting rotation

TORONTO — Blue Jays pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are using the mantra "Nine Every Five" to help push them through their workouts together this off-season.

The big question now is whether Sanchez will get the opportunity to pitch nine innings every five days like his teammate.

Team brass has yet to announce whether Sanchez will be moved out of the bullpen after a successful stint as a setup man last season. Sanchez said Tuesday that he'd like another opportunity to start and Stroman completely agreed.

"Starter, 100 per cent. Everything we've done this year was for that," Stroman said. "We didn't work out twice a day for two months for him to be a reliever. He's 100 per cent ready to go out there and go seven, eight, nine innings every five days."

Sanchez was starting to find his form as a starter last season before a strained back muscle sent him to the disabled list. When he returned, he was used out of the bullpen and became a reliable setup man for closer Roberto Osuna over the second half.

The Blue Jays went on to win the East Division title and came two wins away from reaching the World Series.

The Toronto rotation will have a different look this season after the departures of Mark Buehrle and ace David Price. Stroman, Marco Estrada and R.A. Dickey are back, Jesse Chavez was acquired in the off-season, J.A. Happ signed for a second stint in Toronto and Drew Hutchison could also be in the mix.

It remains unclear whether Sanchez will be stretched out to compete for a spot or remain in a bullpen that features Osuna, Brett Cecil and the newly acquired Drew Storen. The 23-year-old right-hander said he'll do what's best for the team, but is hoping he'll be in the rotation.    

"I think my mindset right when we finished last season was to get in shape to start," Sanchez said. "That's what I've done my entire minor-league career and I want to prove to people here that I can do it. It was unfortunate that the injury happened when it did last year because I felt like I was coming into my own.

"But you can't really stop an injury and hopefully there's no more issues there. I'm excited and ready to go."

Sanchez made 11 starts over his 41 appearances last season. He had a 7-6 record and 3.22 earned-run average to go with 61 strikeouts and 44 walks.

Stroman and Sanchez have been working out together most recently in Florida and the results have been noticeable. The six-foot-four Sanchez has bulked up to 215 pounds.

"I've gained about 25 pounds from the time I started to now, so that's a plus," he said at a Rogers Centre availability as part of the team's Winter Tour. "That's what my goal was going into the off-season. Wanting to start, I knew I needed to be durable and I couldn't do it at 190. So that was a big step forward for me."

The team's pitching plans will come into focus next month when spring training begins in Dunedin, Fla. Pitchers and catchers are slated to report Feb. 22, four days ahead of the full squad. 

"My goal is to be a starter in the big leagues and that's what I'm here to do," Sanchez said. "If they say that I need to go to the pen, I have no control over that. I'll go down there and I'll be the best seventh, eighth, ninth-inning guy that this team needs me to be to win ball games. But we'll see.

"Like I said, nobody knows what the plan is right now and when they do know, I'm sure everybody else will too."

The Blue Jays will kick off their 2016 regular season on April 3 at Tampa Bay.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press