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LAKELAND, Fla. — Aaron Boone has already said he expects Gary Sanchez to catch Gerrit Cole on Opening Day, which marks a change from where things stood late last season.

But Sanchez’s recent performance at the plate in spring training has the Yankees manager sounding much like he did last year in defending his catcher. After a hot start to Grapefruit League play and some monster home runs, Sanchez entered Tuesday batting 6-for-34 — including 1-for-his-last-21 with 10 strikeouts.

“Just some pitches that he should put in play with authority that they’re ending up on the net,” Boone said before the Yankees played the Tigers at Joker Merchant Stadium. “It’s close and it’s fouled straight back. In this game, especially with the pitchers being as good as they are and as powerful as they are, when you get a pitch that you can put in play with authority, you gotta take advantage of it. That’s just hopefully tightening up some final tweaks from a timing standpoint that get him locked in.

“He is doing a better job of controlling the zone. I feel like he’s getting himself into some deep counts but when he gets a pitch, now it’s that time you start hammering it in play with authority.”

Sanchez was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts Monday, though he wasn’t the only Yankee to struggle against Phillies ace Aaron Nola, who struck out nine and gave up just one hit across six innings.

After his brutal 2020, in which he hit .147 with a 69 OPS-plus, Sanchez had been lauded early in camp for the work he had put in both offensively and defensively over the offseason, which seemed to show early on before his recent cold streak.

But Boone insisted that he has seen progress from last season.

“Even though last year was 60 games and short, in my head I chop his season up in a couple halves there,” Boone said. “He was different in the second half of last year. It was more of the better job controlling the zone, still putting too many pitches on the net or when you get that pitch to do something with, missing it. Whereas in the first half, I felt like it was a real struggle for him, where he was leaving the strike zone a lot. So it’s really about fine-tuning that timing to an extent where you gotta take advantage of pitches when you get them.”

Sanchez said on Monday that he had been working on some adjustments regarding his balance in recent games and was hopeful that it would pay dividends moving forward.

But with less than a week left in camp, Boone was asked whether he needed to see Sanchez get some results before the Yankees head north.

“I think he feels good and he’s actually pretty confident right now with what he’s doing,” Boone said. “It’s always nice to get results, especially when you’re coming off a tough season. But those real good feelings or upticks in confidence can happen in one at-bat, one pitch.

“All of a sudden Game 1, Game 4, whatever it may be, a big moment, big hit, can really settle things down a little bit. So I just want him to work really hard fine-tuning that timing here as we get down the stretch of spring training. Hopefully the results follow.”

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