TAMPA, Fla. — The Yankees appear determined to end this particular narrative ASAP.
Going into spring training, the assumption of most people was that Kyle Higashioka, ace Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher late last season and throughout the postseason, would continue in that role in 2021.
But Aaron Boone shot that down the day pitchers and catchers reported, and Gary Sanchez has been Cole’s primary catcher in bullpen sides and live batting practice sessions.
That will continue for the start of the Grapefruit League season, which begins Sunday at Steinbrenner Field.
Boone said Sanchez will serve as the DH for that game but will be behind the plate Monday against the Tigers, also at Steinbrenner Field, when Cole makes his exhibition debut.
Asked during his spring training kickoff news conference last week about pairing Cole and Higashioka again, Boone said, "No. We’ll come in with the idea that whether it’s Gary or Kyle, they’ll both work with all of our pitchers here in the spring, whether it’s in bullpens and then into the spring games."
Boone said that on Saturday, he will release the list of pitchers expected to follow Michael King to the mound in Sunday's game. The fourth-year manager said to expect pretty much all of "the regulars" to see time either Sunday or Monday, with the exception of Brett Gardner and Giancarlo Stanton, but not because of any injury issues.
"Just kind of preference and [based on] conversations I have with all of our guys and each individual and how we want to build them up and stuff," Boone said. "So they're good and ready to go. But I'll probably wait a few days with Gardy and G."
Boone also said the Yankees’ first "three or four games" will be seven innings, which is an option for teams as part of MLB’s tweaked spring training operations relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, as clubs have fewer available players in camp than usual.
Through March 13, as long as they’re in agreement, teams can shorten exhibition games to seven or five innings. Subsequently, the games can be shortened to seven innings.
Thanks but no
One of the horrifying sights of the 2020 Yankees season was Masahiro Tanaka, on the first day of Spring Training II last July 4, taking a line drive off the bat of Stanton off his forehead and suffering a concussion.
Yankees pitchers have been throwing simulated games all week without a protective L-screen, which is not unusual. Tanaka, speaking a few days after the incident, said he would not use one in the future, par for the course for the vast majority of pitchers.
That includes others who have been hit by screaming liners such as Corey Kluber, whose 2019 season ended in his seventh start when a comebacker off the bat of the Marlins’ Brian Anderson broke his right forearm.
Kluber, forced to throw from behind L-screens in the minors, has never liked it.
"I’m not a big fan of the L-screen," he said after pitching a two-inning simulated game at Steinbrenner Field. "Just having that visual there, that screen in front of you [in the minors], it didn’t sit right with me. I felt like I had to kind of throw around it. That different visual kind of messed with me."