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Blue Jays name Aaron Sanchez fifth starter, claim Jesus Montero

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Toronto Blue Jays on Monday finally settled the debate that had hung over their camp all spring by naming Aaron Sanchez as the final member of their starting rotation.

The Blue Jays also claimed infielder Jesus Montero off waivers from the Seattle Mariners on Monday.

Montero, once one of the top prospects in baseball when he was with the New York Yankees, who traded him to Seattle in exchange for Michael Pineda in 2012, batted .223 with five home runs and 19 RBIs last season. The Blue Jays designated catcher A.J. Jimenez for assignment to clear a roster spot for Montero.

Sanchez had been locked in a fascinating competition with veteran right-hander Gavin Floyd and last year's Opening Day starter, Drew Hutchison, for the final spot in a rotation that is trying to replace ace David Price and left-hander Mark Buehrle.

There had been rumblings that the Toronto front office initially wanted to use Floyd out of the rotation and pitch Sanchez out of the bullpen. But Sanchez changed their minds with a spectacular spring, in which he compiled a 1.35 ERA and had a 19-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 innings.

"We all put our heads together and came up with this decision," manager John Gibbons told reporters Monday morning, after announcing that Hutchison had been sent to the minors and Floyd would pitch out of the bullpen. "It wasn't like this was totally mine, but it turned out the way I wanted it."

Sanchez made the Blue Jays' rotation out of spring training last season, too. He was shut down in June with a lat strain, then was moved to the bullpen after he returned in late July. The 23-year-old right-hander was a major force as a reliever in the Blue Jays' late-season surge into first place in the AL East, allowing just a .178 opponent batting average and only two extra-base hits in 30 appearances out of the bullpen.

Sanchez spent the winter in a rigorous strength and conditioning program, came into camp 20 pounds heavier and made no secret of his passion to be a starter. He said he was "excited" when Gibbons delivered the news Monday morning.

"I think I had anxiety the last four days," he said. "Just the suspense of not knowing what I'm doing. I think I did everything I could do and just let the chips fall where they may. I'm thrilled about the move, but now it's time to work."

Managing Sanchez's workload remains a challenge, however. He pitched just 102 innings last season and 133⅓ the year before. So while Gibbons was vague about how the Blue Jays would handle Sanchez's innings, the pitcher said he was told he might have to go back to the bullpen at some point.

"I think the main key is just pitching all year," he said, "and trying to find a way to do that. Gibby talked about going back to the 'pen, but I think we'll deal with that when the time comes. My main goal is just to pitch from start to finish."

Asked if that meant as a starter, Sanchez replied, succinctly: "Pitch."