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A tale of 2 springs for Yankees star Sanchez

Catcher, who struggled and was optioned last March, already at 3 HRs this time around
MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- This version of Gary Sanchez should look familiar to anyone who saw the Yankees' phenom over the last two months of the 2016 regular season. Which raises the question -- who was that guy wearing his uniform number last spring anyway?

Sanchez joined teammates Matt Holliday, Aaron Hicks and Kyle Higashioka in homering during Wednesday's 10-4 victory over Team Canada at George M. Steinbrenner Field. The third-inning blast to center field off left-hander Shane Dawson was Sanchez's third homer of the spring -- two in Grapefruit League play -- and he seems to be picking up right where he left off.

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TAMPA, Fla. -- This version of Gary Sanchez should look familiar to anyone who saw the Yankees' phenom over the last two months of the 2016 regular season. Which raises the question -- who was that guy wearing his uniform number last spring anyway?

Sanchez joined teammates Matt Holliday, Aaron Hicks and Kyle Higashioka in homering during Wednesday's 10-4 victory over Team Canada at George M. Steinbrenner Field. The third-inning blast to center field off left-hander Shane Dawson was Sanchez's third homer of the spring -- two in Grapefruit League play -- and he seems to be picking up right where he left off.

View Full Game Coverage

"I feel good," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "The mentality that I have right now is to work as if I'm not the regular catcher. That's the way that I like to work, but I feel good."

There is no challenge for Sanchez as the starting catcher, with his 20 homers in 53 games having anointed him as such even before the Yankees traded Brian McCann to the Astros in November. But Sanchez has not forgotten the sting of losing his roster spot to Austin Romine one spring ago.

Video: NYY@DET: Sanchez slugs two-run shot to open scoring

Widely viewed as the frontrunner to grab that job, Sanchez produced just two hits in 22 at-bats (.091), prompting the Yankees to option him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last March 22. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he felt Sanchez was trying too hard to impress.

"I just didn't think that he was the same guy that he was capable of being," Girardi said. "I thought he wasn't as selective as he usually is. You've seen, he can be pretty selective up there. I think you could probably tell [he was pressing]."

Sanchez played 71 games at Triple-A before being called up for good, with the demotion providing an opportunity to play every day.

"I've actually always been a slow starter," Sanchez said. "I'm not changing anything particularly, but I am approaching this Spring Training with a lot of intensity. I'm not resting on my laurels after the two months I had last season."

Video: DET@NYY: Sanchez hits a two-run homer in the 3rd

Losing the spring battle also likely benefited the Yankees long term, as it delayed Sanchez's free agency until after the 2022 season. Sanchez is batting .350 (7-for-20) with two doubles and six RBIs in seven spring games, while his strong throwing arm has made an impact, as well.

Girardi said that he senses Sanchez is now playing with "a ton of confidence," and the results have followed.

"Last spring, I'm not sure he got a hit, so it looks a lot better," Girardi said with a laugh. "I think he's in a situation much different from last spring."

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

New York Yankees, Gary Sanchez