Jonathan Sanchez aiming to return later this month

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Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez hasn’t pitched in a game since August 16 due to a badly sprained left ankle and is still dealing with discomfort here in early September. But he hasn’t given up on returning to action before the end of the 2011 regular season.

According to Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News, Sanchez was able to throw a brief bullpen session on Saturday afternoon in San Francisco and could be ready for the final two weeks of September if he continues to make steady progress.

The 28-year-old left-hander has posted an underwhelming 4.26 ERA and 102/66 K/BB ratio across 101 1/3 innings this season for the second-place Giants. He had a sparkling 3.07 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 205 strikeouts in 193 1/3 innings last season.

“I’m feeling a lot better,” Sanchez told the Mercury News after his Saturday throwing session. “I’m not 100 percent, but right around 60-65. When I got hurt, I couldn’t throw. I couldn’t push off, but now I can. It’s progressing. We’ve got a month left and my ankle’s getting better every day, so I’ll do whatever I can. I just want to get to the playoffs, so I’ll do whatever they want me to do bullpen, starting, whatever.”

The defending-champion Giants are currently six games back of the Diamondbacks in the National League West standings and 8 1/2 games behind the Braves in the hunt for the National League Wild Card.

A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.