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Before His Bat Came Back, Gary Sánchez’s Hard Work Moved Aaron Boone

The Yankees manager has repeatedly praised the catcher’s work ethic and character amid a scorching-hot streak that follows prolonged struggles.

It wasn't a guarantee that Gary Sánchez would remain with the Yankees last offseason.

Then, earlier this season, he lost playing time to Kyle Higashioka. No longer New York's unquestioned starter after enduring a similar demotion last postseason, Sánchez looked on-track for a consecutive disastrous campaign.

Now he’s the Yankees’ hottest hitter and canvassing for All-Star votes. “I am still Gary,” Sánchez recently tweeted in hashtag form. The post included a link to the ballot for MLB’s Midsummer Classic and a graphic that read “Vote Gary.”

It might be a bit soon to get Sánchez fitted for one of those knockoff Ralph Lauren All-Star jerseys. There are catchers having arguably better overall seasons despite Sánchez’s recent surge, and the Yankees backstop has always been a player of peaks and valleys. Sánchez is at the summit right now, posting an average well above .300 and an OPS well above 1.100 over his last 23 games. He also has eight home runs and 18 RBI during that stretch, including a three-run bomb in Thursday’s 8-1 win against the Royals.

Of course, the possibility of a new ravine is a hard one to ignore given Sánchez’s greater body of work since the start of 2020. But him even having All-Star aspirations shows just how far he’s climbed—and how reminiscent he’s been of the player that captured fans’ imaginations during his first two years in the league.

“We’re finally seeing what the Kraken is when he’s unleashed,” Luke Voit said Wednesday after Sánchez’s ninth-inning, game-tying dinger set the first baseman up for a walk-off against the Royals. “He’s been positive through everything. Finally, I think things are starting to click with his swing and it’s a huge, huge pickup.”

This isn’t even a quarter of a season we’re talking about, but narratives—some fair, some foul, some hasty—have followed Sánchez throughout his career. Perhaps this resurgent arc fits that latter category, but the microscope that Sánchez plays beneath should examine the good just as much as the bad.

One of the foul narratives, which has always reeked of unsubtle code, is that Sánchez is lazy. Regardless of the quality of his performance, he’s repeatedly shown that to be false. It is now because of his assiduity that Sánchez has rebounded from the lengthiest slump of his career, one that saw him hit .147 last year and .174 through his first 33 games this year.

“He’s worked really, really hard behind the scenes,” Aaron Boone said last weekend, “and [had] the courage to make some real adjustments. But it’s been rooted in a lot of hard work and a lot of hours and correcting that. And now you’re seeing a real quiet, lower half [and] a much more balanced hitter.”

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Sánchez’s regained potency at the plate has coincided with the elimination of a clunky leg kick from his batting stance, which had been messing with his timing since last year. A lot of players would have resisted such a change in the middle of a season, but Sánchez put the effort into identifying and making the necessary alteration.

Sánchez has since seen consistent results, like Wednesday’s homer, much to the delight of a Bronx crowd that has directed plenty of boos his way over the years.

“It feels great to hear the fans show their support,” Sánchez said after the victory. “I’ve got to say, I wish that sometimes when I’m struggling, I hear the same kind of support from them, but they’re New York fans. They’re tough, but it’s much appreciated.”

Sánchez has proven himself tough, too, though. He has worked through all the struggles and sleights, all the questions about his future and his standing on the team. His hot streak won’t last forever, but it’s not the numbers that have impressed Boone the most.

Rather, it was the catcher’s determination and perseverance that had the manager speaking in a moved tone on Thursday morning. All the while, Sánchez has remained himself, just as he had tweeted.

“Gary’s been through so much at this level. He’s experienced a lot. He’s experienced ups and down, tremendous expectations, being this lighting rod. I’ve just gotta say: I’m so proud of what he’s done over the last 4-6 weeks,” Boone said. “When he lost playing time, we had conversations over that. That wasn’t easy… The best thing I can say – and forget where he’s at right now and what he’s doing and how well he’s playing for us – but when it was at his lowest, when he was losing some playing time and scuffling and coming off of last year, you know what he did?

“He was a great teammate. He worked. He made adjustments. And he didn’t change the person and the character, who he was. It’s in those kinds of times, a lot of times, when you find out about people and their character, and his character’s shown through to me. So I’m so happy and love the fact that he’s playing the way he’s playing.”

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