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TORONTO — The day Gary Sánchez showed up at Twins camp this March after a late-night trade, he had already turned the page. The New York Yankees sent the catcher, as well as third baseman Gio Urshela, to Minnesota for infielders Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
“That chapter is done,” he said of his Yankees career. “It’s in the past.”
Sánchez and Urshela will get to revisit it to an extent this week when the Yankees show up for a three-game series at Target Field that will begin on Tuesday.
For Urshela, who spent the past three seasons in New York but came up with Cleveland and also spent some time in Toronto, he said he expects it to be like playing just another team. For Sánchez, who signed with the Yankees as a teenager and became a two-time all-star in New York, the experience might be a little different.
“Maybe a lot of adrenaline that day,” he said. “But at the same time, (I’m) excited to come out with my new team. I’m also excited to see old teammates and friends.”
While Sánchez didn’t have much to say about his former team on Sunday, the change in scenery appears to have done him well. Sánchez arrived in New York as a highly-touted prospect. When he broke onto the scene in 2016, he lived up to those expectations, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting after a 53-game stint where he hit .299 with a 1.032 OPS and 20 home runs.
“Gary was such a highly-touted young player that in those markets, really no matter what you do, you’re going to end up being the center of attention one way or the other, no matter what,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And when the expectation levels are so high, I think a lot of times in the big markets, the expectation levels are at points that are just not reachable for any player. And so it’s almost easy, it’s easier and almost better if you’re not one of those guys, and you can just go out there and play. But everyone’s eyes are on Gary Sanchez.”
Sánchez eventually became the target of frequent media criticism and fan ire over the remainder of his career in New York. But the catcher has seemed to settle well into this new home in Minnesota.
Since the March trade that brought him to the Twins, his defensive metrics have improved behind the plate, and Sánchez, who finished Sunday with two hits including a home run, has been producing offensively. Sánchez entered Sunday with a 109 OPS+ (100 is league average), a jump from his previous two seasons.
“I think he’s enjoying himself here,” Baldelli said. “I think he feels comfortable and able to just play the game over here.”
Carlos Correa, who tested positive for COVID-19 while the Twins were in Detroit, has returned to Minnesota, and Baldelli said he was “doing OK.” The Twins have begun to test him and after two negative tests in consecutive days, he could be cleared to return.
“I think he’s going to need probably at least a couple of days of being on his feet and working out before we would get him back out there in the lineup. But I don’t see it being too far out, so that’s good news,” Baldelli said.
Starter Joe Ryan, who was also sidelined with COVID-19, has thrown a bullpen back in Minnesota and was scheduled to throw another one at higher intensity. Once that happens — Baldelli was unsure if that was scheduled for Sunday or Tuesday — the Twins will have a better sense of how he will slot in moving forward.
Baldelli said they “have to talk about a rehab start,” because of the time he has missed, but the Twins have not yet nailed down whether they will go that route.
Kenta Maeda, who has been rehabbing in Fort Myers, Fla., after last year’s Tommy John surgery, is in Minnesota currently, and Baldelli said the plan was for him to join the group periodically throughout the year to have check ups with team trainers and doctors as well as to be around his teammates. Baldelli again expressed hope that Maeda could be back later this season.
Randy Dobnak (finger), who has also been in Fort Myers rehabbing, suffered a setback within the past few weeks, and his return appears to be relatively far off still.