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Sanchez improving as catcher, says Girardi

Tough wild pitch leads to run in loss to Indians, but manager sees progress
MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- Gary Sanchez said that he believes his defense has improved since manager Joe Girardi publicly challenged him to do a better job behind the plate, but the Yankees catcher still smolders when he is unable to block a ball and is forced to chase down a passed ball or wild pitch.

One of the latter events proved costly in the Yankees' 6-2 loss to the Indians on Monday evening, as Sanchez stabbed at an errant seventh-inning fastball from Adam Warren that rolled to the backstop, allowing Bradley Zimmer to race home with Cleveland's fourth run of the evening.

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NEW YORK -- Gary Sanchez said that he believes his defense has improved since manager Joe Girardi publicly challenged him to do a better job behind the plate, but the Yankees catcher still smolders when he is unable to block a ball and is forced to chase down a passed ball or wild pitch.

One of the latter events proved costly in the Yankees' 6-2 loss to the Indians on Monday evening, as Sanchez stabbed at an errant seventh-inning fastball from Adam Warren that rolled to the backstop, allowing Bradley Zimmer to race home with Cleveland's fourth run of the evening.

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"Definitely a tough pitch, when you call a pitch inside and it ends up being low and outside and on the ground," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "It's hard to block. I tried my best there to stop it but I couldn't."

The sequence came after Zimmer had swiped second base on a strong throw by Sanchez, though second baseman Starlin Castro couldn't handle the ball and was charged with an error.

"I think any time you can get runs -- however they come -- is big, especially against a team like this," Zimmer said. "They have, in my opinion, the best bullpen in baseball; other than our team, obviously."

With ace Corey Kluber firing on all cylinders for Cleveland, the fourth run felt like a game-changer to Warren.

"The fastball was supposed to be in and I kind of yanked it down and away, down in the dirt," Warren said. "I know that's tough on Gary's part because he's not expecting to have to block that pitch. I take the blame on that. I completely missed my spot on it."

It was an evening of mixed results for Sanchez, who went hitless in four at-bats and couldn't block a Chasen Shreve splitter in the ninth inning that was scored as a wild pitch. Sanchez also made an excellent block and throw in the fourth inning to catch Jose Ramirez stealing third base.

Video: CLE@NYY: Sanchez recovers and throws out Ramirez

"I think he's continuing to improve, I really do," Girardi said. "I see progress in him. That's what you want to see out of players, especially young players, that they're making progress."

When the Yankees visited Cleveland earlier this month, Girardi benched Sanchez for the series finale and sent the backstop out to catch a Sonny Gray bullpen session, saying that Sanchez "needs to improve, bottom line" at blocking wild pitches and passed balls.

Though Sanchez missed nearly a month of the season due to injury, his 12 passed balls and 12 errors lead all American League catchers. Including Monday's errant offerings from Warren and Shreve, Yanks hurlers have uncorked 40 wild pitches with Sanchez behind the plate, tied for second in the AL.

"I see him get really upset with himself when he doesn't block one," Girardi said. "To me, that's a good sign, too, because he expects not any ball to get by him. That's how you want a catcher to be."

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

New York Yankees, Gary Sanchez