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Olney: Presented with life's biggest challenge, Gary Sanchez went to work

CHICAGO -- Gary Sanchez's daughter, Sarah, was only seconds old when the folks in the delivery room let him cut the umbilical cord. Then, with some relief, he laid the infant across the chest of his wife, Sahaira Sanchez.

Sarah was so tiny, so little, that he was initially afraid to carry her anywhere, he explained through an interpreter at Wrigley Field on Saturday. The catcher is 6-foot-2, 230 pounds and built like a Brink's armored truck, but the weight of carrying his baby was way too heavy for him in those first days.

Not long after that, Sanchez, then 22 years old, returned to the Trenton Thunder to resume his season in Double-A. Julio Mosquera, a former big-league catcher and a manager in the Yankees' minor league system, vividly recalls Sanchez knocking on the door to the coaches' room when he got back and poking his head in. "Let’s go to work," Sanchez said.

Initially, the Trenton staffers thought he was kidding. But this was no joke: Sanchez was ready to get on the field, immediately, and go through some drills.

He followed through thereafter, working to improve his defense and his hitting with much greater purpose.

Those days right after his daughter was born were a special period in his life, Sanchez explained, because this was the time he realized that he had to be better in his chosen profession. He was a catcher with a somewhat spotty history since signing with the Yankees at age 16, and Sanchez knew he had to put the extra work in to get to the big leagues, to make sure that he could give his daughter a better life.

"It was like the light switch flipped on," Mosquera said.

There is a transformative moment in parenthood, that first time you peek over the edge of the crib and are greeted with a smile -- the biggest and brightest and smallest smile of recognition. It’s thrilling and terrifying, because this little person is completely dependent on you, and you don’t want to mess up. You cannot mess up. Sanchez was not going to mess up, and by all accounts, Sanchez was just different after Sarah’s birth -- more serious, more invested, his work ethic altered forever.

Sanchez grew up in the Dominican Republic in a single-parent home, raised by his mother with help from his grandmother, and that experience shaped his understanding of what was needed of him as a father. This was an enormous responsibility for life, he said.

In 2015, Sanchez earned promotion to the big leagues for the first time, and in 2016, he broke through: 20 homers in 53 games for the Yankees, with his work ethic earning praise from manager Joe Girardi, a former catcher, as well as Brian McCann, the veteran who Sanchez had supplanted.

Sarah has long since grown past those fragile first days, and at 2 years old, she is full of opinions. She listens to her mother more than her father, he says, and mostly wants to play with him. Sarah sometimes asks him, as he leaves home, if he is going to the ballpark, but she has not yet made the connection that her father becomes the figure that appears on the TV -- a rising star, partly, because of her influence on his life.

MLB can't accept players throwing at each other

Red Sox ace Chris Sale threw a 98 mph fastball behind Orioles star Manny Machado on Tuesday but was not suspended. There are examples of pitchers throwing behind hitters and not actually hitting them and then getting suspended, but typically, that has occurred when the pitch in question was near the head of the batter. Earlier this season, Tigers pitcher Matt Boyd was fined but not suspended after throwing a fastball behind the Twins' Miguel Sano, but Boston's Matt Barnes got four games after firing a fastball behind Machado’s head.

The players and teams try to apply their own sense of frontier justice. Sale’s pitch might’ve been in response to Mookie Betts getting drilled the night before, and it’s possible and probably likely that Betts was hit Monday because Barnes threw a ball behind Machado’s head April 24.

But that’s not the sort of logic that MLB should delve into; rather, MLB officials should stick with fining and/or suspending players found to be guilty of violating a particular act, because if they don’t do that, they could aid and abet an escalation of violence, like the ugly situation that developed between the Red Sox and Orioles. If Sale was given get-out-of-jail-free passes by MLB because Betts got drilled the night before, that’s not close to appropriate.

The only question MLB should have addressed is whether Sale threw behind Machado on purpose, and Joe Torre indicated he thought that was the case in comments made to the Baltimore Sun. If the answer is yes, then it should result in discipline that discourages the behavior. MLB shouldn’t tacitly approve what it views as an OK way for a pitcher to retaliate, because as we’ve seen, that’s how mistakes happen, like when Barnes almost certainly wasn’t trying to hit Machado in the side of the head but almost did anyway. There needs to be a move away from the situations in which MLB renders it acceptable for 225-pound athletes to hurl baseballs at their peers at 95 mph.

Lineup changes can punish productivity

A longtime team staffer talked about the increasing number of lineup combinations that teams use, as they look to exploit various platoons. If you have players who are regulars, he noted, there can be an advantage to leaving them in the same spot, so that they are accustomed to how opposing pitchers will attack them based on who is hitting around them.

Major league hitters will tell you that the caliber and quality of the batters in front of them and behind them will have a direct bearing on the choices that pitchers and catchers make in what to throw and where to throw it.

"If you’re hitting in the same spot [daily], in front of the same teammate," the staffer said, "then you’ll have a better idea of how the pitcher is going to work to you, whether they’re going to pitch to you or pitch around you or pitch to you carefully. Will they throw you a lot of off-speed pitches? Are they going to come after you with fastballs?

"If you are constantly moving around in the lineup, then you won’t have as good of a sense about how pitchers are going to work to you."

He cited the No. 8 hitters in the National League -- mostly, those are the guys who bat in front of pitchers in the lineup -- as an example.

"If you have the pitcher hitting behind you," he said, "you learn about when the pitcher is going to work around you, or if he’s going to be aggressive. There’s a learning curve, and if you drop somebody into the spot in front of the pitcher, he probably isn’t going to handle it as well as somebody who does it [regularly].

"I’m not saying you should never change your lineup. You’ve got guys who are hot and cold, and you’ll move up and down. I’m saying there are advantages [gleaned] to maintaining some consistency beyond the mental comfort of being in the same spot."

Going into Friday’s game, the teams that have made the most lineup changes:

San Francisco Giants: 28

Los Angeles Dodgers: 28

Houston Astros: 28

Toronto Blue Jays: 27

Pittsburgh Pirates: 26

Oakland Athletics: 26

Milwaukee Brewers: 26

And the teams that have made the fewest:

Atlanta Braves: 16

Baltimore Orioles: 17

Cincinnati Reds: 17

Kansas City Royals: 17

Colorado Rockies: 18

Philadelphia Phillies: 18

Chicago Cubs: 19

Washington Nationals: 19

Around the league

  • As mentioned here last week, the trade market for starting pitching is likely to be saturated with options, which should help contenders like the Red Sox and Cubs add depth in this area during the year.

  • Jon Lester starts for the Cubs tonight against the Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball, and after years of working with David Ross as his primary catcher, Lester’s new alliance with catcher Willson Contreras has been functional -- albeit very different than what he shared with Ross. Lester’s relationship with Ross was like a mule to a driver: He would follow where the veteran catcher wanted to take him, and in those one or two moments in a game in which he balked, Ross would bark at him and get him back in line. Now it’s Lester who needs to lead, because Contreras is young and still learning how to use one pitch to set up the one that follows. Contreras is still working to separate his at-bats from his time behind the plate, a common challenge for young catchers who must come to understand that their first priority is to always do what’s best for the pitcher -- even if it means not complaining about a borderline call.

  • After Luis Severino’s last start, in which the Blue Jays had a contact rate of almost 95 percent and his swing-and-miss ratio was cut in half, there was some conversation within the Yankees’ organization about whether Toronto had discovered clues in Severino’s setup and/or delivery that would reveal what he was about to throw next. But the Yankees’ staff checked and is confident that there is nothing there. Severino averages 20 seconds between pitches, the sixth-fastest rate among all starting pitchers, in keeping with a habit he says started when he was an amateur. But Severino says he has learned to slow down when necessary.

  • The Indians are hopeful that Corey Kluber will return to their rotation between May 14 and 17.

Baseball Tonight Podcast

Friday: Karl Ravech spoke about the Red Sox-Orioles machinations and the question of whether Baltimore will use the two weeks of incidents as motivation; Twins pitcher Hector Santiago discusses his strong start and his voluminous memorabilia collection; and Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago on the future of Kris Bryant.

Thursday: Bob Nightengale of USA Today on the Adam Jones story and how some wanted proof from Jones; Keith Law on the Kevin Gausman ejection and the Dodgers’ handling of Cody Bellinger; and Andrew Marchand on Aaron Judge and the Yankees’ newfound hunger.

Wednesday: Orioles GM Dan Duquette on Manny Machado and the Baltimore success; Tim Kurkjian on Aaron Judge; and Amir Garrett of the Reds on the baseball/basketball crossroad in his past and Joey Votto’s hoops game.

Tuesday: Nationals GM Mike Rizzo on the fast start of Ryan Zimmerman and the injury to Adam Eaton; Tuesday Trivia; Boog Sciambi on Noah Syndergaard; and Sarah Langs plays The Numbers Game.

Monday: A conversation with Aaron Judge about his hitting adjustments; Jackie Bradley Jr. on Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and others; Jerry Crasnick on the Mets’ problems; and Todd Radom’s uniform and logo quiz and the No. 21 logo of all time.

And today will be better than yesterday.