Will taking a seat bust Gary Sanchez's slump?

ByColey Harvey ESPN logo
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

NEW YORK -- Gary Sanchezhas begun his week spending more time on the New York Yankees' bench than squatting on his knees behind home plate.

That's probably a good thing. At long last, it's probably the right thing.

The catcher, who went 0-for-4 Sunday against the Mets to drop his batting average to just .190, wasn't in the Yankees' lineup for Tuesday's series opener against the Nationals.He won't be in there Wednesday, either. With Sonny Gray on the mound, the Yankees are planning to once again have backup catcher Austin Romine work with the pitcher, much the way he has the past month.

Sanchez's back-to-back bench days -- barring a last-minute decision by manager Aaron Boone to use him as the designated hitter-- come on the heels of Monday's team off-day. This means the struggling slugger likely will have three days down before returning to action Thursday.

The combination of a heavy recent workload, what Sanchez calls an "aching" calf, and a string of disappointing at-bats led the typically patient Boone to finally sit the slumping star.

"He's had just the wear and tear of catching, whether it's shoulder, knee, calf," Boone said. "He's fine, he's good to play, but overall he's a little banged up and maybe that's leaking in a little bit."

In his past 15 games, Sanchez has compiled an .075 (4-for-53) average with 18 strikeouts. His batting average in that span is the worst among major leaguers with at least 40 at-bats since May 22.

In addition to struggling to simply make contact, Sanchez's power numbers have taken a massive hit. He's on a 16-game homerless streak, the longest of his career by four games.

"The reason I'm not hitting is because I'm missing pitches I usually hit," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "Maybe I'm overthinking a little too much and that's why I'm missing those pitches I don't usually miss. I've swung at some pitcher's pitches, really good pitches, and I've missed those."

He didn't miss the last pitch he swung at, a line drive right into the glove of Mets third baseman Todd Frazier to end a Yankees loss Sunday night. According to Statcast, the liner left his bat at 92.2 mph. A few feet in any other direction and Sanchez could've had himself a timely RBI double.

Sanchez might be banged up, but this time off appears to be a much-needed mental break too.

It hasn't been all that common for Boone to bench his struggling players for multiple games. Save for an occasional off-day, the first-year manager has regularly opted to give his scuffling hitters their at-bats, hoping routine will eventually ease them out of it.

Boone has done that with Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardnerand, until now, Sanchez. For Gardner, who went through one particularly horrid 5-for-42 (.119) stretch in May, the manager's patience was reassuring and confidence-building.

"It's important for guys to know that their manager, their hitting coach or whoever it is has their back," Gardner said. "I think to myself, those four or five, however many weeks to this season, and just to keep running me out there in the leadoff spot, getting me my at-bats and letting me continue to see pitches and work out of it. That's important to kind of just stay the course."

It's easier to give players who aren't hitting more opportunities to turn it around when others around them are hitting well, the outfielder acknowledged.

"We've got a great lineup, and when you're winning and scoring runs and pitching well and things are going well, you can afford to give guys a little more time to work out of things," Gardner said.

Gregorius, who had his own 1-for-42 slump that at one point last month dropped his average by nearly 100 points, took comfort in other hitters -- such as Gardner, Aaron Judge,Miguel Andujarand Gleyber Torres-- heating up as he struggled.

"Like I say, if it was just about one person, then the team would not be doing good. But everybody picks each other up. That's one thing that we always have here," Gregorius said. "One guy's struggling today, but then the same day, somebody else is going to pick him up anyway."

Regularly this season, Romine has been there to not only pick up Sanchez but to help carry the team. In 76 plate appearances, Romine is batting .348 with a 1.027 OPS. He has been especially good with runners in scoring position, hitting .474 with 15 RBIs in 24 chances. On Tuesday, he drove in a runner with a sacrifice fly.

Meanwhile, Sanchez has posted a .721 OPS to go along with a batting average below the Mendoza Line. In 69 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, he's batting .236 with 24 RBIs and 18 strikeouts.

Boone's patience isn't only evident in the opportunities he gives struggling players. It has been evident in comments he has made publicly about those players. The phrase "I believe he's close" has been a mainstay in the manager's lexicon.

Before Sunday's game, he said something similar about Sanchez.

"He'll settle in and the hits will start to follow and the hitter we know will be soon after," Boone said. "One of the things I talk to Sanchie about a lot is go up there and have a good at-bat. Because of who you are and the talent you have, the results will be there. The results will follow when you're having good at-bats.

"It's simply a matter of time before he gets rolling again."

Sanchez's teammates echo that.

"For me, he's too talented to continue doing what he's doing," Gardner said. "That's not a knock on him; it's just a matter of things will find a way of evening themselves out over the last half of the season."

That's how Sanchez feels, too.

"Slumps are part of baseball," Sanchez said. "The same way they begin, they end."