Austin Romine has seen his share of disappointments. Once one of the Yankees’ top prospects, he’s spent nearly a decade in professional baseball, paying his dues in the minors, waiting for his brief forays into the major leagues, never quite good enough or impressive enough to stick around for long.
He was cut on the last day of spring training last year, losing his spot to then-Yankee John Ryan Murphy. This season, the 27-year-old was nearly outgunned for the backup spot by a 23-year-old, the Yankees’ heir apparent at catcher, Gary Sanchez. So when Romine says he’ll take every possible opportunity to prove that he can hit — to make his mark before his time runs out — he means it.
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“I went home in the offseason and said I’m done not doing the best that I can,” he said Saturday. “You get passed up by a job by another catcher . . . [And] it just makes me step back and realize what I needed to do, and that was hit. It comes down to the same thing. I’ve got to hit. I’ve got to show them I can hit up here, show them I can hit off big-league pitchers and continue to show them I can catch.”
Memo: Romine can hit.
On Saturday, he made that clear against Red Sox ace lefthander David Price. Romine, a righthanded hitter, doubled in the Yankees’ first run in the third inning and added another RBI double against reliever Sean O’Sullivan in the eighth. He went 3-for-4, and even his out, a fly ball to right, was a good sign, Joe Girardi said.
“I thought he stayed on it,” Girardi said. “I thought he had a tremendous day, a big day for us . . . He’s been through a lot, too. He’s been through disappointment and he’s continued to persevere and fight and fight and fight. At times he’d come to spring training with a chance to make the team and he wouldn’t perform the way he was capable of. But I thought he made some big strides offensively last year.”
The Yankees never doubted Romine’s ability behind the plate, but his bat was considered too much of a liability to install him as the backup on any sort of permanent basis. In 169 major-league at-bats before this season, he had a .201/.244/.278 slash line with one home run and 11 RBIs.
But Romine has had something of a renaissance in 2016. He hit .289 in spring training, far outstripping Sanchez (.091) and his other competition, Carlos Corporan (.167), and Romine has more or less sustained that level of production this season. He’s 8-for-23 (.348) in 12 games as Brian McCann’s backup.
The difference, Romine said, is “just being able to slow the ball down.”
“I couldn’t tell you exactly how I did it. I just know I have an approach,” he said. “When I stick to my approach as I did today, good things tend to happen.”
It also helps that he’s been around. At this point, Romine — who was drafted in 2007 and whose father, Kevin, played for the Red Sox — knows his limitations and tries to work them to his advantage. He understands what pitches he can handle, he said, and knows when to jump when they come around.
“It was just something I decided what’s going to happen,” Romine said about his improvements. He’s worked with hitting coach Alan Cockrell on his mechanics and with assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames on his mental approach, he said.
“I’m still learning,” he said. “If you stop learning, this game is going to pass you up.”
He has no intention of letting that happen anymore.