TAMPA — As the baseball cracked off Gary Sánchez's bat, it wasn't a question of whether or not it would leave the yard, but rather a matter of how far it would fly.
Sánchez decimated a 3-1 sinker up in the zone in his second at-bat on Monday, sending the pitch from Tigers' left-hander Gregory Soto over the batter's eye in center field at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Considering how much work Sánchez put in this offseason after a disappointing performance in 2020, the catcher felt extra grateful to see the results come through this early in spring training.
"Just looking for a pitch to hit there," Sánchez said through the team's interpreter in a Zoom call. "I wanted something in the zone that I could put a good swing on and I did and it felt good. Felt good to connect and run around the bases."
Looking on from the first-base dugout, Yankees manager Aaron Boone kept his eye on the ball as long as he could before it disappeared outside of the stadium.
"That's where the big guys hits it," Boone said after the Yankees' 5-4 win over Detroit. "Obviously he got in a really good strong position there and got his swing off. That's what we love seeing. That's what we know he's capable of."
Sánchez is coming off a season where he hit .147 with 64 strikeouts in 49 games. By the end of New York's pandemic-shortened campaign, the backstop had lost his starting job behind the plate.
That storyline carried over through the winter and into Yankees camp. The backstop was bombarded with questions about his offseason when pitchers and catchers reported a few weeks ago.
Then, in the Yankees' spring opener on Sunday, Sánchez struck out swinging on three pitches in his first opportunity at the plate. Fans were already booing the catcher and spring training had only just begun.
Sánchez reiterated on Monday that his time with hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere, working on keeping his weight back with a compact swing, has helped him improve and regain his confidence at the plate. He's eager to turn Monday's solid contact into consistent quality at-bats as this club draws closer to Opening Day next month.
It's still early in the spring, too early to tell if Sánchez has completely put last year's offensive woes behind him, but Boone and the entire Yankees' coaching staff haven't lost faith in the backstop. Pitchers even continue to praise the strides he's made behind the dish.
"I'm more happy with his first couple of days of work, validating what I think he's done this offseason and here early on in camp," Boone said. "He looks good and I'm excited about what he's capable of doing."
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