Twins’ Gary Sanchez beginning to get in groove

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Gary Sanchez who tormented American League pitching for much of 2016-19 is likely gone forever, but the catcher Yankees fans loved to hate has shown glimpses of his old self in his past month in Minnesota.

Sanchez was behind the plate for the Twins in his first game against his former team on Tuesday night at Target Field in the midst of a solid stretch.

In his previous 22 games, Sanchez was 21-for-80 with six doubles, six homers, 18 RBIs and six walks, along with 24 strikeouts, for an OPS of .869.

Asked if the change of scenery might have been a good thing after years of being criticized in The Bronx, Sanchez said through an interpreter, “Maybe.”

“I don’t know how to answer that,’’ Sanchez said. “I got traded. Then I took this opportunity to do the best of my ability.”

The trade that sent him out of The Bronx also brought Gio Urshela to Minnesota in March.

Gary Sanchez
Gary Sanchez
USA TODAY Sports

Urshela said he believed the move may have been positive for Sanchez.

“I think it was a good trade for him,’’ Urshela said. “Gary is a good player. He’s showing he can be a good player on any team.”

Aaron Boone had the same response as Sanchez, saying “maybe” a change of setting was in Sanchez’s best interests.

“He’s a really talented guy,’’ Boone said. “Maybe a change of scenery helps him a little bit, but that’s not saying that staying here [with the Yankees], he wouldn’t have put up a huge year, either.”

His overall stats aren’t all that much better than they were a year ago with the Yankees, but his defensive metrics have improved, and the Twins, who finished in last place in the AL Central in 2021, are in first place this season.

Sanchez has played a part in that, and he certainly has not been in the spotlight the way he was as a Yankee.

He called the criticism he got with the Yankees “part of the game.”

“It happens to every player,’’ Sanchez said. “Pitchers make adjustments and hitters make their own adjustments. I had a couple bad years and that’s about it. I got traded and now I’m getting better.”

The Yankees have also played better than they did a year ago.

In exchange for Sanchez and Urshela, the Yankees received Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt.

Donaldson has been solid at the plate and third base, but dealt with a shoulder injury, as well as his controversial “Jackie” interaction with Tim Anderson of the White Sox that led to a suspension Donaldson is appealing.

Kiner-Falefa has been about as advertised, and Rortvedt is recovering from knee surgery after being sidelined during the spring by an oblique injury.

Boone, long an advocate for Sanchez, served that role again on Tuesday.

“I sat up here a lot, defending sometimes the quality of person, which was always evident to me,’’ Boone said. “No matter what he was going through, he was always a great teammate. He really cared. He worked. I felt that wasn’t always understood or appreciated. I just want to see him do well.”

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