Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez is happy to be home.
While the 24-year-old grew up in Barstow, Calif., almost halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, he feels the love in Toronto. Especially around the home opener.
The Jays (1-5) welcome Milwaukee (2-5) to the Rogers Centre on Tuesday to kick off the start of a nine-game homestand â€” Baltimore and Boston follow the Brewers â€” as baseball returns.
Left-hander J.A. Happ, who went 20-4 last season with a 3.18 earned-run average, is slated to go against Wily Peralta (7-11 with a 4.86 ERA last year).
For Sanchez, any time the word ‘opening’ comes into play in baseball, it’s special.
“Whether it be on the road or whether it be at home,” he said. “Especially that home one, it’s a lot different from any other one because these are the people that know you the best.
“We’re excited. We like the team we’ve got so it’s about riding the wave for 162 (games) and kind of seeing where it takes us. We’ve been to the playoffs with this group the last two years, so we know what to expect, we know what it takes to get there.”
The Jays took care of Baltimore and Texas last season before falling to the Cleveland Indians in five games in the American League Championship Series. In 2015, Toronto dispatched Texas before being ousted by Kansas City in six games in the ALCS.
It’s been a slow start on the road this year, however.
Toronto has been held to two runs or less in four of its six starts, averaging 3.3 runs a game so far in what is admittedly a very small sample size. It averaged 4.8 runs a year in 2016.
The Jays have hit .201 over the first six outings. Only the Mets (with a 3-3 record and hitting .200 prior to play Monday), and the Seattle Mariners (1-6, .178) had a worse batting average.
Francisco Liriano failing to get out of the first inning Friday in Tampa did not help the Toronto cause â€” or its bullpen.
The Jays have also been without Roberto Osuna (neck spasms) but the closer is expected to be back for the home opener. There is a question mark over third baseman Josh Donaldson, who left Sunday’s game in Tampa with calf tightness.
Marcus Stroman closes out the two-game series against the Brewers on Wednesday. Liriano â€” whose ERA stands at 135.0 â€” welcomes the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday with Sanchez scheduled to throw Friday.
Sanchez led the AL in ERA last season at 3.00, winning 15 games and losing two.
His lone start to date this season was a no-decision in Tampa when he gave up one run on four hits over seven innings in a pitching duel with the Rays’ Chris Archer.
While Toronto fans may be more caught up with the Maple Leafs and Raptors with the NHL and NBA playoffs pending, Sanchez feels a tight bond with Jays supporters.
“Like they say, if you build it they’ll come and we definitely felt that in 2015 when we traded for Troy (Tulowitzki) and we traded for David (Price) and we got those guys over here and went on that run,” he said. “We felt that extra kick from fans and that extra life that kind of put us over the top the last few years, so we just try to go out there and compete for those guys and just have fun.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press