Tim Raines was standing beside first base Sunday rather than on it. But the new Hall of Famer, a Blue Jays instructor filling in as a split-squad coach, still saw a bit too much of Gary Sanchez’s second-best attribute, a howitzer-like right arm.
Raines propelled himself to Cooperstown with 808 stolen bases, fifth in major-league history, so he’s one of the top experts in the field. On Sunday, however, he was treated to an education on Sanchez, who threw out a pair of Jays in the third inning alone.
“I didn’t realize he had that kind of arm,” Raines said after the Yankees’ 7-2 win. “In that situation, I don’t know if I’d even run.”
High praise. Only 53 games into his major-league career, Sanchez, 24, already is keeping Hall of Famers in check. We’ve been so consumed by his Ruthian power surge last August and September that the other side of his game, arguably the most critical for a catcher, has been mostly overlooked.
“He can throw,” Joe Girardi said. “They had the stolen-base guru at first base today and I was having a little fun with Rock over there. But his arm strength is special.”
Sanchez has matured considerably in the defensive department. While everybody went ga-ga over his 20 homers in 201 at-bats, and rightfully so, he also wants to make an impact behind the plate. That’s what someday might draw comparisons with Pudge Rod riguez, who will be inducted into the Hall with Raines this July.
We’re not preparing Sanchez’s plaque just yet, but the Yankees are thrilled to see his progress and the work he’s put in to get there. In 36 games at catcher last year, Sanchez threw out 41 percent of potential base-stealers, going 13-for-32. Pudge had a mark of 46 percent, with a peak of 60 percent (35-for-58) in 2001.
“I’d be shocked if people run on this guy,” Brian Cashman said. “They shouldn’t try. He’s shown a lot of improvement. His consistency, because he’s a big kid, he just has to work on the nuances of blocking pitches, framing properly and being able to steal some strikes that way. Then the accurate throws, because the cannon has always been there.”
Ah, yes, the cannon. The 6-2, 230-pound Sanchez cut down Jon Berti, then nailed Ezequiel Carrera. Both had walked, and there’s no better friend to a pitcher than a guy who can erase those mistakes with a powerful flick of his arm. Neither play was even close.
“I don’t know why they run,” Starlin Castro said. “It’s unbelievable because they get a good jump and are out by two feet.”
Sanchez homered once every 11.45 plate appearances after being recalled last Aug. 3 and immediately established himself as a back-page fixture. It’s what earned him a second-place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting. Despite going 0-for-3, he generated a buzz Sunday with those two throws. To him, those defensive daggers can be just as satisfying as homers.
“It kind of feels like the same thing,” he said through an interpreter, “because you’re contributing. You’re helping the team.”
The Yankees believe it will continue. After Sanchez’s relatively brief audition, Cashman traded catcher Brian McCann to the Astros — and picked up $11 million of the remaining $34 million on his contract to do so. Now the safety net is Austin Romine, but the Yankees don’t figure they’ll need it, even with everything on Sanchez’s plate regarding the pitching staff.
“No question,” Cashman said. “He’s got 12 guys in his hands, guiding them through, navigating those opposing lineups. Then he’s got to keep the running game at bay. It’s a big responsibility. But he’s continuing to show that he’s ready for it.”
And that makes Sanchez a double threat. Sunday was another preview. “It changes the complexion of the game,” Girardi said. “These aren’t arms you see every day.”
Fortunately, the Yankees will.
Gary Sanchez was one of only six MLB catchers to throw out more than 40 percent of base-stealers last season (minimum 26 attempts):
Rank Player, Team SB Against Caught Stealing CS Pct.
1. Roberto Perez, Cleve. 13 13 .500
2. Salvador Perez, KC 40 37 .481
3. Evan Gattis, Hou. 15 13 .464
4. James McCann, Det. 33 27 .450
5. Sandy Leon, Bos. 20 14 . 412
6. Gary Sanchez, Yankees 19 13 .406