TAMPA — Gary Sanchez had one of the worst years in the majors and followed it up with a postseason in which he lost his starting job and an offseason that saw his Yankees future in doubt.
In the first days of spring training, the catcher is trying to keep his eyes on the future and he still sees himself as a starter.
“I can’t name myself the starting catcher, but what I can tell you is I do want to be playing every day,’’ Sanchez said Saturday through an interpreter. “I don’t see myself just playing two times a week. I feel I would like to have the opportunity to play every day.”
Sanchez figures to get every chance after the Yankees ultimately decided not only to keep him, but also to give him a raise to $6.35 million.
But he can hardly afford another season like 2020, which general manager Brian Cashman recently described as “horrible.”
Despite Sanchez’s poor performance last year and the spotlight that will certainly be on him throughout this spring and beyond, he said Saturday he doesn’t feel pressure going into 2021.
“I’m too focused on my job and the work I need to do,’’ Sanchez said following a workout at the minor league complex. “I want to go out there and have fun and enjoy playing this game. It’s a fresh start for everyone, including myself. I can’t start thinking about the bad results of last year. I have to focus on my work.”
Three days in, it’s impossible to tell whether that work is paying off. Sanchez began his offseason work in Tampa shortly after the Yankees’ season ended, making adjustments with hitting coach Marcus Thames.
He took those tweaks to the Dominican Republic, where he played winter ball, solely as a designated hitter, attempting to rediscover the approach that made him among the most feared hitters in the game earlier in his career.
Sanchez has since shortened his swing and is keeping his weight on his left leg in an effort to let pitches travel more.
He admitted “it’s a little early” to determine whether the changes are working, but he’s confident they will yield results.
“I feel great,’’ Sanchez said. “I definitely think this year is gonna be different.”
Manager Aaron Boone said Sanchez “looks really good” and “here in the early days [of camp] is doing quite well.”
That includes his continued work with catching instructor Tanner Swanson on catching with one knee down — sometimes his left and other times his right — which may have contributed to his struggles at the plate a year ago, since there was a thought he was being given too much to handle defensively.
And it ended with him watching most of the playoffs from the dugout.
“Honestly, it wasn’t easy,’’ Sanchez said of his playing time dwindling in October. “It was not. I’m used to playing every day. Not being able to contribute — although you want to — it wasn’t easy.”
Part of the decision was the improved play of Kyle Higashioka, who worked well with Gerrit Cole and produced at the plate.
“The fact I played well down the stretch always gives you confidence going into the next season,’’ Higashioka said. “You know that’s what you’re capable of. … As far as my role goes, I’m not going into the season under any assumptions. I’m just first and foremost focused on making the team out of spring and after that, I’m just gonna play my best baseball and whatever happens, happens.”
The Yankees also brought in Robinson Chirinos for depth, but getting Sanchez right is the top priority.
Sanchez complained in an interview with ESPN this offseason that he wasn’t told why he was being benched during the playoffs, but he and Boone have both said their relationship is strong.
“It was a tough year for me,’’ Sanchez said. “Right there [in the playoffs], you kind of understand if you had better results, better production, in the season, you would probably be playing. I have to turn the page and put it in the past.”