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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

It’s time to make defensively-challenged Gary Sanchez the DH

Indians' Michael Brantley scores on Edwin Encarnacion's sacrifice

Indians' Michael Brantley scores on Edwin Encarnacion's sacrifice fly while Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez plays the ball in the third inning on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017, in Cleveland. Photo Credit: AP / David Dermer

CLEVELAND

Gary Sanchez is having a terrible time behind the plate this season, and that misery continued Friday night during the Yankees’ 7-2 loss to the Indians at Progressive Field. Between another passed ball (his 12 lead the majors) his failure to adequately block pitches in the dirt (two wild pitches) and what appears to be a weaker arm, Sanchez increasingly has become a liability at the position.

There’s no point in sugar-coating the obvious, even for an All-Star. And a frustrated Joe Girardi, a former catcher, took Sanchez apart after the Yankees dropped their fourth straight.

“He needs to improve — bottom line,” Girardi said.

It’s another problem the sinking Yankees don’t need at the moment, but one they can’t ignore. So let’s take a glass-half-full approach here. In considering the options with Sanchez, how about this: The Yankees may be losing a starting catcher, but they can end up gaining a DH.

Apparently, getting a day off to clear his head — and avoid the merciless Corey Kluber — didn’t cure Matt Holliday, who’s in an 11-for-81 (.136) skid, so he’s going to require more bench time. By using Sanchez more at DH, Girardi has the opportunity to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone. You can safely assume it’s coming, even if the manager says the topic has yet to be discussed.

“We’re trying to think of everything, so we’ll talk about everything,” Girardi said. “So far we have not.”

As Girardi himself is prone to say, this scenario is not what you want.

Every team drools over the idea of having someone with Sanchez’s lethal bat manning a usually light-hitting position like catcher, and the Yankees should be the envy of the sport with Sanchez’s 17 home runs and 52 RBIs in only 76 games.

But this blueprint no longer is functioning the way the Yankees had hoped. In addition to the 12 passed balls, Sanchez’s 10 errors are the second most among catchers, a counterweight to his 3.43 ERA, which is third best in the majors. He also has thrown out 35 percent of would-be base-stealers this season, compared with 41 percent a year ago.

“As a professional baseball player, every day you’ve got to improve,” he said through his interpreter. “You’ve got to get better.”

As of now, moving Sanchez to DH would be a win-win: Keep his bat in the lineup, remove the slumping Holliday and rely on Austin Romine’s steadying influence at catcher. Romine isn’t Holliday at the plate, but neither is Holliday at the moment, so that makes the tradeoff palatable.

The Yankees made sure it was Romine who caught Sonny Gray’s debut, and there’s no way Sanchez could have handled hs electric arsenal of breaking pitches, which Romine described as “video-game” stuff.

Jaime Garcia is a dependable veteran starter, but he isn’t in Gray’s league, and Sanchez still struggled to corral some of his pitches Friday night. In the second inning, Austin Jackson was at third base with two outs, and Sanchez let the first pitch to Roberto Perez — a 91-mph four-seam fastball — kick off his glove and scoot behind him, allowing Jackson to score easily. Perez showed bunt before pulling his bat back, but the pitch should have been caught, or at worst kept in front of Sanchez.

“That split-second, I lost it,” he said. “I lost it completely.”

It was five weeks ago in Chicago that Girardi was seen lecturing Sanchez in the dugout about his defense, and that was during a 12-3 rout of the White Sox. While that may have come off as a teachable moment, you have to wonder how much of Girardi’s shared wisdom actually sunk in. In the fifth inning Friday night, Sanchez failed to contain a pair of wild pitches, leading to a run.

A month ago, Sanchez was an All-Star, but that sparkle has faded. He’s all rough edges now, an unfinished project. “His work is OK,” Girardi said. “It’s taking it to the game.”

Or taking him out from behind the plate.

New York Sports