BUFFALO — When will Gary Sanchez be deemed ready to return to the starting lineup? The Yankees are leaving it very much open to interpretation.
The catcher, in a horrible slump at the plate to start the season, was benched for the Yankees’ series finale Sunday in Baltimore.
In announcing the club’s decision late Sunday morning, Aaron Boone didn’t offer a timeline for when Sanchez, who has a .130/.237/.350 slash line with seven homers, 11 walks and 15 RBIs in 32 games, might return. And while Boone offered a little bit more on that Monday, he still left things somewhat open.
“We’ll see,” he said before his team, in third place in the AL East at the start of the day, began a huge three-game series against the second-place Blue Jays at Sahlen Field. “Could be tomorrow or the next day. We’ll talk through it with the coaches and see how we want to move forward.”
Boone said Sanchez, with whom he talked at length on the field during batting practice Monday, is working behind the scenes with hitting coach Marcus Thames and assistant hitting coach PJ Pilittere. The primary focus is getting him to do a better job against the fastball, especially ones up in the strike zone.
“I think it’s more about making that adjustment to where [he is] getting back to dominating the fastball,” Boone said. “As a hitter, I think that’s where it all begins, being able to handle the fastball. When you’re on time and able to spot and hit the fastball, that’s where you’re able to recognize the off-speed pitches [and do damage on mistakes]. I really want to see him getting back to hitting the fastball . . . I want him to go out and dominate the heater. If he can do that, I know he can go on a special run for us.”
In some ways, blaming Sanchez for the Yankees’ overall offensive struggles is unfair. As Clint Frazier said Sunday, “It’s no secret that we’re all struggling right now.”
Sanchez, however, has looked like a player in need of a mental break. Besides the ugly slash line, there’s this: After striking out four times in four at-bats as the DH in Saturday night’s loss to the Orioles in Baltimore, he was in a 5-for-40 skid with 19 strikeouts. He had 48 strikeouts in 100 at-bats overall, including nine in his last 11 at-bats.
“I think he's constantly trying to do things, and when you've had the kind of success that Gary's had at the big-league level, you want to just find that good feeling of 'OK, I know when I'm right, I'm a beast. I'm a problem for teams,' ” Boone said Sunday. “I think there's some subtle adjustments that can be made that hopefully can unlock him, and he's got to find that inside.”
Aaron Hicks, a Yankee since 2016, has seen Sanchez at his best. He watched him hit 20 homers in the final 52 games after being called up in August 2016, then hit .278 with 33 homers and drive in 90 runs in the catcher’s first full season in 2017.
“It’s definitely tough to watch him go through this, but it’s all about being able to make adjustments and make adjustments quick, especially in this game,” said Hicks, who is going through his own issues at the plate. “Once they kind of figure out something a guy’s doing or swinging at, you have to understand what they’re trying to do and make the adjustment. But I still believe he’s going to do his thing in the next three weeks here and get back on track.”