TAMPA — On orders from MLB, big-league clubhouses are closed to the media and other nonessential folks until further notice as part of the war on the coronavirus.
With reporters locked out of the clubhouse on Monday, interview requests for players were made through the Yankees’ public relations department. Since Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez hadn’t taken batting practice since Friday due to back tightness, his presence outside the Steinbrenner Field clubhouse Tuesday was requested.
So when team vice president Jason Zillo emerged from the clubhouse, it was believed he was going to give the media a time when Sanchez, who was listed to take batting practice on Field 2 but didn’t, would talk.
Nevertheless, a little after noon, Zillo said Sanchez developed a fever and would be examined by a doctor.
Because a fever is a symptom of the coronavirus, the immediate thought was whether Sanchez be tested for the virus. Thankfully, that wasn’t required.
“He tested positive for the flu,’’ Aaron Boone said. “He will be reevaluated on Friday, so he will be away from us the next couple of days. We will see where he is at, at that point.’’
According to Boone, Sanchez wasn’t tested for anything else.
“He had the fever [Monday night], so when he came in to see the doctor [Tuesday], and they tested him, and it was positive for the flu,’’ Boone said.
Sanchez hasn’t played since Friday when he was charged with one passed ball and was behind the plate for three wild pitches. The next day, it was announced he had a back problem. Originally, Boone believed Sanchez would return to the lineup Monday, but that didn’t happen. Nor did Sanchez play Tuesday, and with the Yankees traveling to Jupiter and West Palm Beach on Wednesday and Thursday, Sanchez wasn’t scheduled to play. Boone said Monday the plan was for Sanchez to play Friday night against the Tigers at Steinbrenner Field.
It is unlikely Sanchez will be ready to play in a game Friday night since he won’t have taken batting practice in a week, the flu often leaves people drained and there is the back issue. The Yankees play the Phillies on Saturday, have split-squad games against the Twins and Blue Jays on Sunday and are off Monday. Providing Sanchez’s energy returns and the back isn’t barking, it’s possible he returns March 17 against the Tigers in Lakeland or the Pirates at home on March 18.
It’s been an eventful spring training for the 27-year-old Sanchez. He had to learn how to work with new ace Gerrit Cole, a new catching stance that has a leg down on the ground like a kickstand in order to frame pitches low in the zone better, a back problem and the flu.
At the plate, Sanchez is 1-for-17 (.059) and was battling timing issues before the back put him out of action.
Deciding that Kyle Higashioka, 30 next month, could handle the backup catching chores, the Yankees let free agent Austin Romine dance to Detroit with a one-year deal for $4.1 million. Higashioka’s backers like his defensive ability, and he hit a career-high 20 homers last year at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
With Sanchez landing on the injured list five times in the past three seasons — twice in each of the past two — and now having a back issue in spring training, Higashioka could be expected to do more than the garden-variety backup catcher.
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