TAMPA, Fla. — No hard feelings.
Though much was made from the outside last season when then Yankees manager Joe Girardi publicly criticized Gary Sanchez’s defense, the catcher took no offense.
Back then or Tuesday as pitchers and catchers reported.
“Looking back at all the things that Girardi said, I feel that all that stuff was to help me be better,” Sanchez said through his translator. “And at the end of the year I thought he helped me get better.”
Lost somewhat in the hyperventilating about Girardi calling out Sanchez was that he was right. Sanchez was terrific at the plate but struggled behind it.
Sanchez led the American League with 16 passed balls, and the Yankees were third-worst in the AL in wild pitches with 83, a statistic that reflects poorly on the catcher.
And so after the season, one in which Sanchez slashed .278/.345/.531 with 33 homers and 90 RBIs in only 122 games — he missed a month early in the season with a biceps injury — the catcher went to work on the part of the game that clearly needed the most improvement.
“This past offseason I worked really hard on defense because I want to be better than last year, I want to fix all the little issues I had last year defensively and I want to keep improving,” Sanchez said. “That’s the bottom line, just keep improving.”
While Sanchez did spend the winter working on his defense, he did not spend it shedding weight, contrary to published reports. He ended last season in the neighborhood of 230 pounds and showed up Tuesday about the same.
“Physically I feel in great shape,” said Sanchez, who did appear to have added some muscle to his frame.
Sanchez was in his home in the Dominican Republic in December when he heard the news that sent shock waves across the sport — that the Yankees had acquired NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins.
“I thought it was great because he’s a guy who’s going to come here and help provide offense,” Sanchez said. “I was just as surprised as anybody else.”
Expectations are soaring for a club that made it to Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS and Sanchez said being that close to the World Series motivated him all winter.
“Whenever you get to be part of a playoff run like that and you get to experience that atmosphere, it’s something very different and very unique and you want to keep doing that every year,” Sanchez said. “That’s definitely a motivation for me to want to keep getting there and then going even further.”