NEW YORK -- When Luis Severino begins to fire pitches off the mound in the Yankees' first postseason game of the year, Gary Sanchez will be wearing shin guards and a chest protector behind home plate, manager Joe Girardi confirmed on Friday afternoon.
Girardi delivered a strong defense of his 24-year-old catcher, one day after a Sonny Gray wild pitch and a passed ball got by Sanchez in a seven-run Rays rally that led to New York's 9-6 loss. Girardi rejected the suggestion that the hiccup might sway him to have Sanchez serve as the designated hitter with Austin Romine taking over catching duties in a potential American League Wild Card Game.
"Catchers are going to have bad days," Girardi said. "He got the crap beat out of him [Thursday]. Everyone wants to focus on the two balls that maybe got by him. What about the 12 or 14 that he did block? He got hit in the neck, he got hit in the shoulder. I've been asked the question, 'Do you catch Romine with Severino on Tuesday?'
"Just by chance, take a look at the ERAs with the catcher and what this kid has done with Severino. So this is my catcher. I am happy with the progress that he's made. Will he make more progress? Absolutely. He's young. This kid has really made a lot of progress, and you're going to have a bad day every once in a while as a catcher."
Should the Yankees play the AL Wild Card Game, they hope to have Severino start on Tuesday against the Twins at Yankee Stadium. Girardi did say on Friday, however, that Severino is aware he might have to pitch in a Game 163 between the Yankees and Red Sox on Monday in New York. This year, Severino has made 22 starts with Sanchez, allowing 44 earned runs in 138 2/3 innings for a 2.86 ERA. In nine starts with Romine, Severino has allowed 20 earned runs in 54 2/3 innings for a 3.29 ERA.
"I'm definitely ready for however the manager wants to use me," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "If he wants to put me in the game, I'll be ready for that. That's my job, to be ready to play baseball, right? Defensively, the year hasn't gone the way that I've wanted it to, but I also feel that I've improved in the past couple of months. ... I've caught Severino many times throughout the season. I'm going to be ready, however my manager wants to use me. I'll be ready for that."
Sanchez leads the Majors with a combined 67 wild pitches and passed balls allowed, but his arm and framing have balanced out that performance, as Defensive Runs Saved rates him as a +1 backstop. That's tied for 23rd out of 50 catchers with at least 400 innings caught this season.
After an Aug. 4 game in Cleveland, Girardi publicly stated that Sanchez's defense "needs to improve, bottom line," frustrated after watching a passed ball and two wild pitches sail by the catcher in a 7-2 loss to the Indians. Girardi said that he was offering an honest assessment of Sanchez's play at the time, and he said that he has been pleased by Sanchez's response.
"He took it upon himself and has worked very hard to improve," Girardi said. "Again, we don't necessarily have the easiest guys to catch in the world. You've got guys throwing 100 [mph], and if they miss their spot, it's not always easy, or you've got breaking balls that are extremely sharp.
"I've talked to him about how important he is to our club. I know he's got a great bat, but his defense is really important too. I'm proud of the improvements he's made, and again, I think he's even going to get better as time goes on."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.