“For me, you never know what to expect coming in with a new catcher. I know there’s been a narrative about his catching. I thought he’s been pretty awesome the whole year,” Ottavino said. “It only took him like three games in spring training to figure out kind of my MO and just kind of go from there. He’s real easy to talk to. He works really hard. He pays attention. I’m guessing he’s come a long way, but I think he’s doing a pretty good job.”
Sanchez is known for his ability to unleash power at the plate. But with the Yankees planning to be so aggressive with their bullpen, they are putting a lot of their postseason hopes on Sanchez’s plate to not only deliver offensively, but to guide power-pitchers with different tendencies every night.
He had a bounce-back season after a nightmare 2018 at the plate and behind it. Last year, the catcher could not have had a worse season. Battling a nagging groin injury, the catcher hit just .186 with a .406 slugging percentage. He hit 18 homers and struck out 94 times in 323 at-bats. He also allowed a major-league leading 18 passed balls last season and finished with just seven this season.
Sanchez, who hit 34 homers in 106 games this season, went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in the Yankees’ Game 1 win and is clearly still finding his way at the plate, getting his timing back after missing 11 of the last 14 games because of a strained groin.
Friday night, he blocked the ball well, he received the ball well, and though the Twins stole a base on him and Ottavino, he handled the game very well.
“I thought he had a great night behind the plate. I thought his game-calling was really good. I thought he received the ball well. His blocks … there were some difficult ones in there,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “But his growth has been awesome. I thought that he grew a lot last year even through some of the struggles. ... I think that he’s taking another giant leap this year. I feel like even after the first month of the season where I don’t think he was receiving as well as he could, I think in the last four months or whatever, his work behind the scenes has been great. I think it’s shown up now. The games he’s caught, I think he’s been really good.”
Sanchez has been criticized by Yankees fans for being “lazy,” behind the plate and bad defensively. Last winter, after having surgery to clean out his shoulder and finally recovering from the groin injury, Sanchez put in a lot of work defensively.
Earlier this season, Rays manager Kevin Cash was raving about how Sanchez is able to handle the stable of power-pitchers in the bullpen.
“The demands to catch guys throwing 98, 99, 100 miles an hour and then with the breaking stuff, that is a lot,” said Cash, a former major league catcher himself. “He does a really good job handling all of them, not just the starter, but with that bullpen he’s an asset to them.”
Britton noticed early this season, when they were in Baltimore. The sinker-ball pitcher buried one unexpectedly in the dirt with a runner on third base and Sanchez had it smothered before the runner could even break.
“I think the one thing about our bullpen is you can kind of look down there and a lot of guys have like a signature pitch, and you can go list the names of the guys and pick out one pitch that probably their most dominant so that maybe makes it a little bit easier,” Britton said. “I think he does a good job of incorporating guys’ secondary pitches. I’ve been really happy with Gary. I think he’s made a lot of strides.”
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