FORT MYERS, Fla. — Joe Girardi never professed an affinity for pitchers having “personal catchers,’’ but there were times when it worked out that way in his 10 years as the Yankees’ manager.
Most recently, for example, Austin Romine caught the majority of rookie Jordan Montgomery’s starts last year, 20 of them compared to six for Gary Sanchez, whose struggles defensively were well documented, particularly in blocking balls.
And in that instance, the results couldn’t be argued with. Montgomery, who finished 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA last season, produced a 3.68 ERA with Romine and a 4.50 ERA with Sanchez.
Regardless, don’t look for that this season.
“Bottom line is we’ve got an elite-level catcher [who] we’re not going to sit down and get into the personal [catcher] stuff,” Aaron Boone said after the Yankees’ 2-1 victory over the Twins on Thursday at Hammond Stadium.
Before the game, Boone addressed the topic more in depth.
And while his philosophies as a manager are still a mystery, if for no other reason than spring training generally is a poor facsimile of the regular season and the scenarios a manager faces, Boone clearly enunciated his thoughts regarding personal catchers.
“Gary’s going to do the bulk of the catching [and] I’d prefer to stay away from matching guys up,” Boone said. “Because then you get into a key start late in the year, you get in a playoff situation, and all of a sudden guys haven’t been together where you’re going to ride your horses. I would prefer to stay away from it.”
The pitcher splits with Sanchez and Romine last season were interesting. For instance, Masahiro Tanaka posted a 5.34 ERA in 21 games with Sanchez and a 3.15 ERA in 10 games with Romine. Sonny Gray, whose breaking stuff in the dirt proved difficult for Sanchez to block, had a 4.63 ERA in eight games with Sanchez and a 1.45 ERA in three games with Romine.
Then again, CC Sabathia’s ERA was 2.96 in 20 games with Sanchez compared to 5.79 in five games with Romine. Luis Severino, as expected, was good with both — a 2.86 ERA in 22 games with Sanchez and a 3.29 ERA in nine games with Romine.
“I want to feel good about our catcher-pitcher relationship no matter if we have Ro [Romine] back there or if we have Gary back there,” Boone said. “And I’m confident that we’ll have that with all of our starters and with our catchers.”
The Yankees have been pleased with the progress Sanchez has made blocking balls in spring training — Romine mentioned it unsolicited in the clubhouse during a discussion about an unrelated topic — and Boone said insofar as game-calling, it’s something pitching coach Larry Rothschild mentioned early on.
“I think it’s a strength of his,” Boone said. “It’s something when I first got the job, one of the first conversations I had with Larry, Larry reiterated that to me. He said he’s [Sanchez] got a really good feel back there from a game-calling standpoint, and in spring training, I’ve certainly witnessed that.”
Montgomery, the club’s fifth starter, made his final exhibition start Thursday and threw to Romine. But he’s pitched to Sanchez plenty in spring training, in bullpen sessions and games, including his previous four games entering Thursday.
“I’ve worked with Gary [all spring],” said Montgomery, who allowed one run and six hits in six innings. “That’s not going to be an issue. Me and Gary have been going pretty good.”
“So we’ll keep being on the same page,” he said, “and he can keep hitting homers for me.”
Comparing the Yankees’ starting pitcher ERA splits for games caught by Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine last season: