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Romine rising to Boone's preseason challenge

Catcher bearing out manager's belief in untapped offensive ability
MLB.com @BryanHoch

BALTIMORE -- Austin Romine's initial contact with the Yankees' new coaching staff came with a challenge, as manager Aaron Boone expressed his belief that there was untapped potential in the offensive department, nudging the backup catcher that he could -- and should -- be able to produce more at the plate.

Those words did not sting Romine, who entered the 2018 season with a .220 career batting average and .577 OPS over parts of six seasons in New York. Instead, Romine nodded and set to work, drilling with the team's coaching staff to close off his stance and have a more direct path to the ball. That move has produced favorable results through the season's first months.

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BALTIMORE -- Austin Romine's initial contact with the Yankees' new coaching staff came with a challenge, as manager Aaron Boone expressed his belief that there was untapped potential in the offensive department, nudging the backup catcher that he could -- and should -- be able to produce more at the plate.

Those words did not sting Romine, who entered the 2018 season with a .220 career batting average and .577 OPS over parts of six seasons in New York. Instead, Romine nodded and set to work, drilling with the team's coaching staff to close off his stance and have a more direct path to the ball. That move has produced favorable results through the season's first months.

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"I loved it," Romine said, of Boone's challenge. "It wasn't negative, like, 'You're not doing well and we expect you to do more.' It was, 'We know you can hit more than that,' and it was positive. All that stuff has come, and it's all been positive. They've been behind all of us. They're pushing us to be better and to better ourselves every day.

"I've sold out for it and good things are happening, with the positivity behind me from our hitting coaches and manager, bench coach, all of them. It's a very positive environment."

Video: NYY@BAL: Boone on Romine's hot streak following win

Romine had two hits, including a run-scoring double, in the Yankees' 4-1 win over the Orioles on Friday at Camden Yards. He entered Saturday riding a career-high 10-game hitting streak, over which he is batting .483 (14-for-29) with three homers and 10 RBIs, and he has reached base in 13 consecutive contests.

"The reason we [challenged Romine] is because we think he has the talent to be a quality hitter," Boone said. "That's where the challenge came from, because we believe in the ability. To his credit, he's worked really hard at it. I talk to him every day in batting practice; the way he's getting ready to hit, the move he's making, it's a quality one. In a weird way, I'm not really surprised that he's doing this well."

Boone said that having a quality backup catcher also helps Gary Sanchez, because it provides more flexibility for the Yankees to pick their spots to give their starting backstop a rest day or to use him as the designated hitter.

"I feel like all those things can add up to a more productive player in Gary's case throughout the season, keeping him strong and keeping him fresh," Boone said. "Catcher is obviously such a demanding position, and because Gary is so important to our team offensively as well, I think it's really important that we protect him and preserve him and give him the rest that keeps him sharp and fresh throughout the season."

Video: LAA@NYY: Romine smacks a 2-run shot off the foul pole

Romine has driven in 16 runs in 56 at-bats, a 3.50 AB/RBI ratio that leads the Majors (min. 50 at-bats). Romine has said that he tired of being viewed as an automatic out in the lineup, and thanks in large part to how he answered that spring challenge, that no longer is the case.

"I'm not swinging at pitchers' pitches," Romine said. "I'm not trying to hit their best pitch. I'm trying to work counts and get ahead and swing at fastballs out over the plate. There's no mystery to what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to go up the middle the other way. If I get a mistake, I can hit it out, but my game plan is hit the ball up the middle and go the other way."

Sunday spotlight

Two upcoming Yankees games were picked up for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, one of which has drawn Boone's attention. The July 8 contest at Toronto has been changed to an 8:05 p.m. ET start, after which the Yankees will have to fly to Baltimore and take the field for a 4:05 p.m. ET doubleheader against the Orioles on July 9, making up Thursday's rainout.

"That's obviously not a good situation," Boone said. "Hopefully there's something that can be done that maybe changes that situation. Anytime you have the potential of a night game traveling into a doubleheader, the first thing I worry about is player safety and the product on the field. Hopefully those things go into the decision-making process."

The Aug. 5 game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park has also been picked up by ESPN, with a start time set for 8:05 p.m. ET.

Comeback trail

Jordan Montgomery (left elbow strain) is progressing and continues to play catch on flat ground. Boone said that the left-hander "has responded really well." Initial timetables at the time of Montgomery's injury suggested that he could return in mid-June or early July.

Video: NYY@HOU: Montgomery exits games with elbow tightness

Adam Warren (right back strain) threw a bullpen session on Friday at Camden Yards and "came out really well," according to Boone, who said that the right-hander is on track to be activated prior to Monday's doubleheader against the Tigers in Detroit.

This date in Yankees history

June 2, 1925: Lou Gehrig played in the second game of his 2,130-game streak. After pinch-hitting in the streak's first game on June 1, Gehrig started at first base in an 8-5 win over the Washington Senators, replacing Wally Pipp in the lineup and going 3-for-5 with a double.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

New York Yankees, Austin Romine