There’s never exactly a good time for an injury — players want to play, and putting the best team on the field depends on as much healthy talent available as possible — but there are certainly better times than others. Gary Sanchez’s trip to the DL with a groin strain comes at what can comfortably be called a better time, in large part thanks to Austin Romine.
Before we go any further let’s be clear; this is not a catcher controversy, and when healthy, Gary Sanchez is and should continue to be the starting catcher. What is true however is that Sanchez has struggled offensively so far this season, at least outside of hitting roughly as many home runs as would be expected heading into July, and Romine has been exceedingly, if surprisingly, productive at the plate. While he has tailed off some over the past few weeks, Romine still has an OPS+ of 129, better than every AL catcher on the All-Star ballot, including likely (and deserving) vote leader Wilson Ramos. While it’s certainly possible, maybe even likely, that this will dip over a few weeks of starting full time, we have also seen Romine thrive when given the starting role. When Sanchez was on the DL last spring with a hamstring injury, Romine hit .327/.350/.473.
Romine has appeared even-keeled and hard to rattle, at least as long as Miguel Cabrera isn’t in his face shortly before being taken out at the knees. A backup catcher’s primary job is to be able to step in and handle the pitching staff, and Romine has shown that ability even when struggling offensively. Somehow over the past handful of years, he has transformed like a slightly sad and world-weary caterpillar from a fresh-faced prospect to an increasingly grizzled veteran backup. Maybe not the career path he envisioned at 22 as he stepped onto the field at Angel Stadium for his debut, but precisely what the Yankees need at this moment.
Despite the sturm und drang surrounding Romine and the backup catcher role, notably as Sanchez’s struggles continued as this season progressed, Romine has done what was asked and more than many outside the coaching staff and front office expected of him. He can hold down the fort, keep the pitching staff humming, and get enough hits to back up an offense that is suddenly featuring Giancarlo Stanton showing something of his true form. In a month or so, a healthy Gary Sanchez will return to the lineup, and maybe he’ll even be better for it, with the break being what he needed to reset and find himself again at the plate.
A healthy, productive Sanchez would be the ideal, but in what is decidedly not the best of all possible worlds, Romine does his job and then some.
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