TAMPA, Fla. -- Gary Sánchez made it a point to arrive weeks early for Spring Training, huddling with catching coach Tanner Swanson for daily sessions throughout the month of January. Those workouts are paying dividends, as the Yankees believe they have seen a more confident version of their starting catcher in this camp.
“Gary is going to have a special year this year, with the changes I’ve seen him make and the improvements on both sides of the baseball,” outfielder Aaron Judge said. “Gary is a guy that can go out there and win [the American League] MVP [Award]. He’s that dynamic, that important of a player to this team.”
The most noticeable change to Sánchez’s defensive approach went into effect last spring, as Swanson incorporated a one-knee-down style intended to bolster Sánchez’s pitch framing. Those analytics showed improvement during the 2020 season, though Sánchez endured a frustrating campaign in which he hit .147 with 10 homers in 49 games.
“He was grinding, but he was always a great teammate, always positive,” infielder DJ LeMahieu said. “He’s the same guy this year, but he does seem very focused on his early work to prove that he’s Gary Sánchez, and he’s one of the best catchers in this league. I know it’s early, but he’s had some really good at-bats so far. It’s great to see.”
The fastest player in AL history to reach 100 homers, power at the plate remains Sánchez’s calling card. It has not hurt that Sánchez is impacting the baseball again, already launching a pair of homers in early action at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
“When he’s at the plate, you don’t leave anything out over the middle,” Judge said. “He’s going to do some damage.”
Sánchez has also earned praise from the pitching staff for his ball-blocking and game-calling, most notably from ace right-hander Gerrit Cole, who was pleased to see Sánchez smother his curveballs and sliders during their first game working together in nearly half a year.
“He has really invested himself into what we’re doing and has refined his process,” Swanson said. “He’s putting a lot of quality work in and we’re seeing that transfer to the game. He’s spoken a little bit regarding his overall comfort with some of the adjustments we made last year and continue to refine now. I think he’s in a really good place.”
Gumby’s got it
Jordan Montgomery said that he is pleased by how he is moving on the mound so far this spring. The left-hander tossed 42 pitches (28 strikes) over three scoreless innings in Sunday's 4-0 win over the Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field, permitting two hits and recording one strikeout with no walks.
“It was good to get some work in with guys on base,” Montgomery said. “That’s the best it could have worked out, to give up two soft singles and work out of it. I got to work on holding runners and just feel the pressure of having guys on base, so I’m pretty happy with where I am.”
Montgomery said that he came into camp believing that he would have a spot in the rotation, which has allowed him to focus on getting his mechanics in line. Montgomery has used the spring as an opportunity to learn from Corey Kluber, whose focus serves as an example for the rest of the pitching staff.
“Kluber is a man of few words,” Montgomery said. “I’ve talked to him a little bit; we had breakfast a couple of days. You can just watch him and learn so much, the way he carries himself and gets after it in the weight room. He knows what he’s doing there; he’s got a plan. He’s attacking the hitters and he doesn’t really miss.”
Gardy, party of four
Brett Gardner cracked a grand slam in the second inning of Sunday’s win, slicing a drive over the right-field wall against Phillies starter Zack Wheeler. Gardner has hit four grand slams in his big league career, last on April 17, 2019, off Ryan Brasier of the Red Sox.
“He hammered that ball. It was good to see,” LeMahieu said. “I’m happy for him. He's working hard and getting ready for the season. He looks really good.”
Gardner’s slam was the Yankees’ biggest hit of the afternoon, but it wasn’t the loudest. That was Giancarlo Stanton’s first-inning double, which Statcast clocked at 109.4 mph off the bat.
“G is healthy, and that's the bottom line for him now,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I just feel like it's a matter of him being able to post, and go out there 140, 145 times. If he does that, there's no question in my mind that a giant season is in there.”
• Kluber is scheduled to throw a batting practice session on Monday at the Yankees’ player development complex. The rest of the team is off.
• Lucas Luetge struck out the side in a perfect inning on Sunday, and he has fanned eight batters through three spring frames. Boone said that the 33-year-old lefty has excellent spin-rate numbers that make him an interesting roster candidate.
The Yankees will enjoy an off-day on Monday before returning to action on Tuesday, visiting the Tigers for a 1:05 p.m. ET game in Lakeland, Fla. Right-hander Deivi García is scheduled to start for New York.