New York’s main objective at the catcher position in ’21 is properly evaluating Gary Sanchez, who has one more opportunity to show he deserves the starting job — and starting catcher money — for the next several years as extension conversations loom.
And, with 162 games on the slate instead of a sprint-to-the-finish 60, the Yankees have room for at least a few missteps on the road to success.
If Sanchez can’t create a viable connection with the flamethrower, given a full season to get ready, then that’ll be it for him. There will no longer be a debate about his long-term fit with the organization; after all, the Yankees have already committed to Cole.
Sunday’s action, of course, gave us a double whammy’s worth of discourse, and in the interest of simply presenting the facts, we will focus only on the positive.
A few hours after Aaron Boone confirmed Sanchez would be Cole’s intended Opening Day catcher, Higashioka returned from injury to catch five innings of one-run, eight-strikeout baseball, helping to lull the Blue Jays completely to sleep.
Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and Kyle Higashioka were still a perfect pair Sunday.
If Boone’s goal is to foster the Cole-Sanchez connection, he hasn’t done a very public job of doing so this March.
Remember all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Sanchez catching Cole’s first outing of the spring? We’ve now reached March 21st, and the team’s ace has only one preseason start remaining on the schedule.
That inning is still the only one Sanchez has caught.
The other three starts have gone to Rob Brantly and Higashioka twice, and in sum total, Higgy and Cole have matched wits for eight innings of two-run baseball with 13 strikeouts on the board. In the Brantly and Sanchez starts, Cole let up three earned runs and two homers in 4.2 innings pitched.
This is not to impugn Sanchez. It’s certainly not to throw Rob Brantly under the bus. It’s simply another opportunity to mention that Cole is uniquely comfortable with Higashioka, a pairing that cannot feasibly continue this regular season. The pairing passes the eye test, too — who didn’t have a great time watching Cole in complete control on Sunday against the AL East’s second-best lineup?
As bizarre as it sounds, it’s comforting that Cole and Higashioka have the type of relationship where the catcher knows he can prod his ace a few times before acquiescing to his desire and letting him blaze his own trail.
Whether the calls were coming from behind the plate or on the mound, every button pressed was flawless on Sunday. The stuff was crisp, the motivations were clear, and New York’s most difficult-to-avoid partnership crested again.
And when Opening Day arrives, it won’t be intact. Completely understandable, yet still wild.