Gary Sanchez mashes away memories of his slow start

NEW YORK -- Remember that rough start Gary Sanchez had the first two weeks of this season?

It looks like he doesn’t. With a two-homer showcase in Tuesday night’s 8-3 New York Yankees win over the Minnesota Twins, Sanchez practically relegated his first nine games of 2018 to history, all but putting to rest the early concerns about when he might finally get rolling.

Suffice it to say he’s rolling now.

He isn’t the only one. The combination of a warming Sanchez, a red-hot Didi Gregorius and six strong innings of two-hit ball from veteran starter CC Sabathia powered the Yankees to their fourth straight win and their eighth win in the past 11 games.

It was just the kind of performance the Yankees will try to repeat often this year as they pair their powerful pitching staff with a deep lineup that has the potential to blow games open at will.

“That’s what you envision,” Sabathia said.

As New York looks to continue those winning ways, it hopes Sanchez can continue his recent sweet-swinging habits.

“Right now I’m just being more consistent, I’m putting the ball in play, and we see what happens,” Sanchez said through an interpreter. “I definitely want to keep being consistent. But I also feel that I need to keep making adjustments.”

The numbers suggest that he has already made those necessary tweaks.

Through his first nine games, Sanchez batted an abysmal .056 (2-for-36). One of his two hits was a home run, and he had three RBIs. He also sported a .248 OPS.

In the 10 games he has appeared in since, the catcher has hit .341 (14-for-41) with four homers and 15 RBIs. He entered Tuesday’s game with a .631 OPS, a mark nearly .400 points higher than it was before his turnaround.

“The work I’ve seen him do pregame and his BPs, he’s using the whole field and really driving the balls to center field and using the right-center gap,” right fielder Aaron Judge said. “That’s when he’s his best.”

Both of Sanchez’s homers followed that pattern of going up the middle or to the opposite field. His second-inning solo shot barely snuck into the first couple rows of right-field bleacher seats. Five innings later, his 436-foot, two-run shot landed on the netting above Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park in straightaway center field.

Sanchez now has nine multihomer games in his career, making him the first player in major league history to record that many by his 196th career game.

As a team, the Yankees have had seven players post multihomer games this season (including Sanchez’s two such performances). That’s the most multihomer games by a team through its first 22 games of a season in major league history.

There were other offensive standouts Tuesday, including Gregorius, who homered for the third straight game. His fifth-inning, two-run blast stayed just inside the right-field foul pole and arced high into the second deck.

Gregorius, who has previously claimed that he “isn’t a home run hitter,” has a team-leading eight homers this season.

“Still, I’m trying to hit line drives all over the place," Gregorius said. "If they go out, they go out. I’m not trying to up my swing. I’m trying to keep the same approach and try to be consistent with what I can do, hit line drives all over the place, line to line to line.”

Regardless of what the shortstop considers himself, manager Aaron Boone smiles when he sees the 28-year-old slugger march from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box.

“I know I feel good when he walks to the plate,” Boone said. “And I know I feel good when he walks to the plate with runners on base.”

Sabathia feels that way, too. The veteran pitcher, who has played alongside former Yankees shortstop and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, is at ease whenever opposing hitters chop ground balls to Gregorius these days.

“What [Gregorius] has done in taking over for arguably one of the best shortstops to ever play -- and we don’t even bring him up anymore because Didi has been that good -- you’ve got to give him a lot of credit in what he’s been able to do taking over in that spot,” Sabathia said. “He’s the anchor of our team.”

Sabathia anchored another solid starting performance for the Yankees, following sharp outings the past four days from Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. Sabathia’s two-hitter across six innings was the result of a sharp cut fastball that Twins hitters had trouble handling.

The outing Sabathia gave the Yankees was also necessary because of whom he was matched up against. On the mound for the Twins was the tough to solve Jose Berrios. The right-hander brought a 1.63 ERA and a propensity for strikeouts into the contest.

With the Yankees seeking to assert themselves as an American League power, they viewed this as an opportunity to get more strong starting pitching while battering another team’s ace.

“If you’re able to keep getting those 3-2 counts and fight off those tough pitches and get his pitch count up and try to get to that bullpen, then we’re in a good position,” Judge said.

Although Berrios got his strikeouts -- he had seven -- the Yankees ran him from the game after he reached 93 pitches a few batters into the fourth inning.

As the Yankees potentially inch closer to October, they’ll need many more outings that feature the offensive and pitching combination they enjoyed Tuesday.