WASHINGTON — Gary Sanchez will always be defined by his powerful right-handed bat, but Thursday night the Yankees’ catcher talked about how far he has come with the new defensive stance introduced by catching instructor Tanner Swanson in February.
In the early days of spring training 1.0, Sanchez seemed uncomfortable with the low crouch that featured a leg kicked out and designed for him to turn borderline low pitches into called strikes.
Following Thursday night’s impressive 4-1 Opening Day win over Max Scherzer and the defending World Series champion Nationals, Sanchez described his progress.
“Getting better, much more comfortable and getting to the point where it is second nature to me,’’ Sanchez said of the setup that was in play working with Gerrit Cole. “I think it is a result of all the work we have been doing. It has been a lot of work dedicated to assimilate the stance and I think it is making progress.’’
As for the bat, Sanchez struck out against Scherzer in three at-bats, but that isn’t a rarity against the right-hander who fanned 11 but took the loss. Brett Gardner also had the strikeout hat trick.
Tyler Wade is on the Yankees’ 30-man roster for his ability to play shortstop, second, third and run.
Thursday night against the Nationals, the left-handed hitting Wade was in the lineup at second base because DJ LeMahieu continued to work his way back from COVID-19. Though Wade isn’t the accomplished big-league hitter that LeMahieu is, he did do something in the Yankees’ win that LeMahieu couldn’t have accomplished: he scored from first on Aaron Judge’s double to left in the third inning, with the help of third-base coach Phil Nevin sending him home.
“His speed, we saw the bunt game [Thursday night], he is a special kind of defender. It is one thing to have speed, but he is a great base runner,’’ Aaron Boone said of Wade, who in a sacrifice-bunt situation in the fifth got the ball past the mound and forced second baseman Starlin Castro to attempt a barehanded play that went for a single and helped build a run. “If he can get on base enough he is a guy who can affect the game and the versatility he has a chance to be really valuable.’’
In parts of three big-league seasons, the 25-year-old Wade had 218 at-bats in 109 games and a .197 batting average entering Thursday night. However, when he played regularly for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2017, he led the International League with a .310 batting average.
“I think he has it in him to be a guy who controls the strike zone which is critical for him, not chasing,’’ Boone said. “The difference between him being a really good major leaguer or struggling .’’
As for LeMahieu, he was scheduled to face Jordan Montgomery in a simulated game Friday. If that went well, there is a chance the All-Star second baseman starts against Stephen Strasburg on Saturday night.
The Yankees signed veteran lefty reliever Fernando Abad on Friday and sent him to their satellite camp in Scranton. The 34-year-old Abad missed spring training 2.0 with the Nationals due to COVID-19 and was released by the club.
Abad has pitched for six big-league clubs and was signed by the Nationals in February and released July 17. He worked 21 games for the Giants in 2019 and posted a 4.15 ERA. In nine big-league seasons, Abad has a 3.67 ERA in 384 games.
Right-handed hitters hit .257 with a .750 OPS versus lefty swingers batting .234 with a .661 OPS.
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