CLEVELAND — Joe Girardi wouldn’t call it a benching, though there aren’t many other ways to read the situation after Gary Sanchez did not play Sunday.
“We really like the job Romine did last night,” Girardi said of backup catcher Austin Romine, who started a day game after a night game as the Yankees beat the Indians, 8-1. “And Gary’s played 11 days in a row.”
True, but when Girardi gave Romine the start Saturday night and had Sanchez at DH, he said he planned for the latter to start Sunday.
Additionally, Romine — who is hitting .221 after going 0-for-4 Sunday — didn’t do anything drastically different Saturday night from what he’s done throughout the season and throughout his big-league career, which is play good defense.
Sanchez has not done that this season, and that seemed to come to a head Friday night when two wild pitches and a passed ball led to two Cleveland runs. It made Girardi say afterward that his work behind the plate needs “to improve.”
“We’ve expressed to him how important that is,” Girardi said before Sunday’s game. “We just really liked the job Romine did last night, and that position is extremely, extremely important.”
Several hours before Sunday’s first pitch, Sanchez, who leads MLB catchers in passed balls (12) and errors (10), was in the bullpen catching Sonny Gray, whom he hadn’t seen before.
“I thought [that] was important,” Girardi said.
But that wasn’t the only reason Sanchez — who said after the game that he showed up Sunday “expecting” to be in the lineup — was in the bullpen. Under the watchful eye of Girardi and Tony Peña, two former big-league catchers known for their defense, Sanchez worked on blocking balls.
Is Girardi sending a message to Sanchez?
“The start is not the message,’’ Girardi said. “The message came from us verbally that your defense needs to improve, that you need to work at it. He’s worked at it, but we’ve expressed how important it is.”
Sanchez, through his translator, said he understands.
“I know that I need to improve on those things,” he said. “I have to improve on defense, I’m not perfect, and I understand that. The bottom line is I need to improve on defense. I’m working hard.”
Girardi said Sanchez, who added about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason, probably “caught better last year,” which isn’t to say there hasn’t been improvement.
“Game-calling he does pretty well. That’s not something we think he’s off on,” said Girardi, who also noted Sanchez’s ability to frame pitches reasonably well. “He does his work there and he has pretty good instincts and sees things and adapts pretty well. If that was a problem, I don’t think the ERA of our pitchers would be as good as it is. But blocking is important. Not giving that extra base is important.”