TORONTO — Gary Sanchez’s season-long defensive struggles finally came to a head over the weekend in Cleveland and landed the second-year catcher on the bench. Joe Girardi essentially said enough is enough, starting Austin Romine on Saturday and Sunday.
Sandy Alomar Jr. said it shouldn’t be a shock that Sanchez is having trouble in his first full season in the majors. Nor is it anything to panic over.
“He’s ahead of schedule,” said Alomar, who coaches first base for the Indians and instructs the club’s catchers. “A kid that comes in and is able to catch in the big leagues and do what he did last year, that’s pretty good. He’s 24 years old. And to do it in New York, too. That’s not easy to do. He’s going to be fine.
“He’s still maturing as a catcher,” said Alomar, a Gold Glove winner, six-time All-Star and the 1990 AL Rookie of the Year with the Indians. “Catching’s not easy. It’s not a thing that you’re going to mature in the big leagues that quick. It’s going to take time. He’s got Joe Girardi and Tony Peña [former catchers]. He just needs to listen to those guys. He’s going to be OK.”
That is an ongoing process. Girardi and Peña worked with Sanchez in the bullpen before Sunday’s game, focusing mostly on blocking balls, an issue throughout the season. Sanchez leads MLB in passed balls (12) and errors (10). Offensively, he is having a better than solid season with an .827 OPS, 17 homers and 52 RBIs in 77 games. He is expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday night.
The 6-5, 200-pound Alomar had 11 passed balls in his first full season in 1990 but never had more than seven in a season after that. He said he can relate to the 6-2, 230-pound Sanchez and the inherent challenges of being a “big guy” as a catcher.
“My whole thing was to spread out. I wanted to spread out my legs to have a good base,” Alomar said, noting that he was speaking of himself and not about Sanchez and how he’s been taught. “The base is very important for us because the narrower you are, the more flinchy you are. And when you [try to] catch the ball, the force of the ball will take you laterally. We use a wider base. That way, you have a stronger foundation.
“Our philosophy is that you’ve got to have a catcher’s stance that you’re able to block, receive and throw, and you’ve got to be able to do all those elements. We focus on trying to have a catching stance where you can do all three.”
Alomar said he’s seen a decrease over the years in prioritizing stopping the ball. “I see a lot of guys in the big leagues now trying to catch the ball instead of just blocking it,” he said. “When the ball’s in the center of your body, try to get the glove down early. And give the ball some room so it can hit your chest protector. That’s what it’s there for. You see a lot in baseball now, everybody’s trying to pick it instead of just blocking it. That’s something going on with the latest generation. I’m sure [Sanchez] will get better at it.”
Alomar called catcher “the most demanding position in the game,” which he said is why it was unrealistic to expect a sophomore season with no setbacks for Sanchez.
“You have to be strong mentally because the staff needs you to be strong mentally and the team needs you to be strong mentally,’’ he said. “Sometimes you have bad days as a catcher. It happens. It’s kind of like a closer; you’ve got to turn the page to the next day.’’
With a smile, he added, “He’s going to be fine.”