CLEVELAND -- Gary Sanchez was an observer for the duration of Sunday's 8-1 Yankees victory over the Indians, and while Joe Girardi said that he would not call it a benching, the manager acknowledged that there was a message sent to the catcher during this weekend's series at Progressive Field.
Girardi said that Sanchez was told point blank that his defense must improve after he permitted his Major League-leading 12th passed ball in Friday's 7-2 loss to Cleveland. The manager said that Sanchez is "physically fine," but his issues blocking balls prompted backup Austin Romine to catch Sunday's day game following a night game.
"The start is not the message," Girardi said. "The message came from us verbally, that your defense needs to improve. You need to get better at it, and you need to work at it. He's worked at it, but we've expressed how important it is."
Girardi watched as Sanchez caught Sonny Gray's bullpen session on Sunday morning, then practiced blocking balls.
"I was expecting to be in the game, but I came to the park and I was not in the lineup," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "So I was on the bench, ready for anything. If the manager needed me for anything, I was ready."
Girardi said that Sanchez's game-calling and pitch framing are satisfactory, but they continue to harp upon the passed balls as well as Sanchez's 10 errors, which lead all American League catchers. Sanchez said that he understands there is room for growth.
"The conversation about defense was how to improve, how to get better blocking balls and eliminating passed balls," Sanchez said. "And I know that. I know that I need to improve on those things."
Part of the issue may be that Sanchez has gained some weight, with general manager Brian Cashman telling the New York Post that Sanchez had put on eight-to-12 pounds of muscle over the offseason while keeping his body-fat percentage the same. That may be limiting his flexibility, with Cashman saying it was a matter of "good intentions and bad results."
"I don't think so. I've just got to be better on defense," Sanchez said. "I'm up in muscle weight, but I feel good."
An All-Star for the first time this season, Sanchez has compiled a respectable catcher's ERA of 3.54 while throwing out 14 of 40 potential basestealers (35 percent). Yankees pitchers have also uncorked 29 wild pitches with Sanchez behind the plate this season.
"I think he does his work there and has pretty good instincts and sees things and adapts pretty well," Girardi said. "If that was a problem, I don't think the ERA of our pitchers would be as good as it is. But blocking is important. Not giving that extra base is important."
Girardi said that Sanchez is expected to catch Carsten Sabathia in Tuesday's series opener against the Blue Jays, and he does not anticipate a scenario where Sanchez's role would be reduced to that of a designated hitter.
"No, I think if he catches to his ability and we have him as a catcher and we can DH other people and have his bat in the lineup, I think that's when we can be at our best," Girardi said.