TAMPA, Fla. -- If Gary Sánchez enjoys a bounce-back year, we might refer back to the moment on Monday when he turned on a dead-red fastball, launching a mammoth homer over the George M. Steinbrenner Field batter’s eye. The jaw-dropping drive offered a keen reminder of why the Yankees continue to believe in their slugging catcher.
Even in batting practice, few drives travel in the territory where Sánchez sent a Gregory Soto heater in the Yankees’ 5-4 Grapefruit League victory over the Tigers, soaring toward the traffic on Dale Mabry Highway. Yet Sánchez offered no bat flip or other theatrics; he’s saving those for the games that count.
“I was just looking for a pitch to hit there,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. “I wanted something in the zone that I could put a good swing on, and I did. It felt good to connect and run around the bases. My first homer of Spring Training definitely felt good.”
Sánchez aims to rebound from a disappointing 2020 season in which he batted a career-low .147 with 10 homers and 24 RBIs in 49 games, losing playing time down the stretch to backup catcher Kyle Higashioka.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that he has been happy with Sánchez’s work and was pleased to see that rewarded with the tape-measure blast.
“My first thought off the bat was, ‘That ball is going a long way,’” Boone said. “That’s when one of the big guys hits it -- it’s just a little bit different off the bat. That’s what we love seeing. That’s what we know he’s capable of.”
Sánchez has been working with hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere to keep more weight on his right leg and reduce his left leg kick, which they believe will improve his consistency.
“Usually when you lose control in the box, it’s because you’re out of balance in your lower half,” Sánchez said. “I’ve used that leg kick for quite some time. Usually that’s where you find trouble because sometimes if you use it too much and you’re too ahead, you’re going to find yourself out of time. If you stay too far back, you also find yourself out of time. For me, it’s finding that balance that works for me.”
Jameson Taillon’s first appearance in a game situation since his August 2019 Tommy John surgery was crisp, clean -- and if any of the attendees on hand ventured away to visit a concession stand or restroom, they probably missed it.
The right-hander retired the side in order on seven pitches in the second inning on Monday, striking out Daniel Pinero swinging before getting Derek Hill and Robbie Grossman to fly out to center fielder Aaron Hicks on one pitch each. Taillon was so efficient, he had to toss about 10 more pitches in the bullpen after the half-inning.
“In my head, I was like, ‘Man, I wish I could have gotten a little more in-game work there,’” Taillon said. “But for the first one, shorter is better. Quick and clean, get in, get out. I’m healthy and I feel great... I'd love to run some more sequences together and honestly get back in game mode, getting to face more hitters.”
Taillon said that he believes his control has improved due to shortening his delivery, and that his next step will be to add changeups as he builds his pitch count. Gerrit Cole, a teammate of Taillon’s with the Pirates, stayed in the dugout to watch his buddy during the second inning.
“He did look really sharp; much more efficient than me,” said Cole, who allowed one run on three hits in the first inning. “That first one out after the surgery is always special for the guys. I’m sure he’s happy. I was happy for him as well.”
Austin Wells, the Yankees’ first-round selection in last year’s MLB Draft, notched a fifth-inning single off Zack Hess. Unofficially, it was the first professional hit for the 21-year-old Wells, who did not play in the Minors last year because of the pandemic.
“He can really hit,” Boone said. “He’s going to be a good hitter in this league. It’s been fun to watch him in his process and kind of just go about his business. It was fun to get him into a game like that and throw an at-bat up there. It validates some of the things we’ve been seeing from him here.”
Taking the shot
Derek Dietrich has appeared in 746 big league games over the last eight years with the Marlins, Reds and Rangers, but the 31-year-old said that it would fulfill a lifelong dream if he’s able to crack the Yankees' roster.
“When I had the opportunity to have a chance to play for the New York Yankees, I jumped at it,” Dietrich said. “You may only get one shot to put on the pinstripes. It’s such an honor with the reputation and all the great players and people that have been a part of this organization. I just really wanted to jump at it and take this opportunity and hopefully win a World Series."
A self-described “Swiss Army knife” who is most comfortable at second base, Dietrich has played every position except shortstop, center field and pitcher in the Majors, potentially providing an experienced left-handed bat off the bench for New York. Dietrich is happy to be reunited with Giancarlo Stanton, a teammate for several years in Miami.
“The guy is an absolute beast,” Dietrich said. “We developed a special bond. We both really like to take care of ourselves physically and really put in work. G works harder than almost anyone that I’ve ever played with. He’s always taken extra reps in the cages and he’s doing his extra conditioning on the field. It’s definitely a blessing to be back on the same field with him.”
He said it
“He hit a homer off me in the Minor Leagues. I ducked because I thought it was going to hit me in the head and it hit the center-field batter’s eye. He’s got crazy power.” -- Taillon, on Sánchez
The Yankees outrighted outfielder Greg Allen to the Triple-A roster on Monday, but he will remain in Major League camp. Allen was acquired in a January trade with the Padres that sent left-hander James Reeves to San Diego.
The Yankees will play their first road game of the spring on Tuesday, traveling to visit the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., for a 1:05 p.m. ET contest. Left-hander Jordan Montgomery is scheduled to make his spring debut. Lefty John Means will draw the start for Baltimore. Luis García, Chad Green and Trevor Lane are expected to pitch in relief for New York.