HOUSTON — There are the obvious positive attributes that have stood out about Austin Wells through his first major league weekend: a blasted double Sunday that marked his second career RBI and a pinpoint throw to second base that nailed the first base-runner who tried to steal on him.
But it was the quieter skills — the kind that onlookers might not notice but pitchers surely do — that might have been the most encouraging.
The rookie Yankees catcher took steps toward proving himself with his bat, with his arm and notably with his brain in a sweep of the Astros that culminated with a 6-1 win at Minute Maid Park on Sunday night.
Wells, called up Friday, has earned compliments from every game’s starting pitcher but none was more effusive than Michael King.
The two had never worked together — Wells remembers hitting against King in spring training but not catching him — and yet Wells studied enough, knew enough about King’s arsenal and knew what adjustments to make quickly.
The 24-year-old Wells was tested quickly.
With runners on the corners and one out in the first inning, he called for a front-door sinker from King, a pitch that ideally goes toward a lefty hitter’s hip, then reverses and touches the inside corner.
Wells set up inside on Kyle Tucker, and the ball strayed a bit too far across the plate, which enabled Tucker to loft a sacrifice fly for the Astros’ only run of the game.
King prefers his catcher set up far inside — that way, a miss is a ball rather than across the middle of the plate — and thus Wells placed his glove, as a target, much farther inside the next time he called for the sinker.
“Those quick adjustments he’s able to make,” King said after he lasted five innings allowing just the one run, “I think make him a phenomenal player.”
Wells was a 2020 first-round pick who arrived with a reputation as a bat-first catcher.
He has hit at every stop in his professional climb and showed off some natural lefty power with his first extra-base hit, a ninth-inning double to right-center.
He was called up with concerns about his arm, concerns that he tried to minimize as quickly as possible.
The Astros did not attempt a steal Friday or Saturday before Mauricio Dubon took off for second base Sunday.
Wells caught the pitch and released a perfectly placed dart to Gleyber Torres, who applied the tag in time.
Wells looked toward his dugout and shook his head like a bobblehead.
“That was awesome,” said Wells, who had thrown out just 13 percent of runners in the minors this season.
As the Yankees have shown with every catcher since Gary Sanchez, it is the softer skills that they prioritize behind the plate.
They need their pitchers feeling comfortable with their catcher calling the game and reading opposing swings.
Manager Aaron Boone said Wells has done “a great job with our staff.”
It is just one weekend, but it is one that left the Yankees — and their pitchers — heartened with a young player who might be the future.
Even if Wells proves his bat is for real, his mind and glove will have to be, too. He knows as much.
“Being able to go back there and have the game in my hands really, calling pitches every play,” Wells said, “that’s really important to me.”
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