BUFFALO – Kyle Higashioka, as expected, caught Gerrit Cole a fourth straight start Tuesday night, meaning Gary Sanchez did not.
And while Aaron Boone during his first spring training said that in general he was against the notion of a "personal catcher," all indications continue to be that Higashioka will be paired with Cole in Game 1 of the wild-card round, and any ensuing postseason starts the ace makes.
"I don't necessarily love it," Boone said Tuesday afternoon, echoing somewhat what he said in March 2018. "That said, I don't mind it."
Boone continued: "If you have a guy that is the clear backup that's only playing once every four days or once every five days and they get in a good rhythm with a pitcher…I mean, obviously, I've been doing it here with Higgy and Cole. I think over the long haul, maybe you try to avoid it a little bit, but if it's a natural matchup and things are rolling, obviously I'm not against it."
And, entering Tuesday night, the numbers certainly spoke for themselves.
When Cole took the mound against the Blue Jays, he stood at 6-3 with a 3.00 ERA overall, but 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA – with 27 strikeouts and five walks in 20 innings – in his last three starts, all with Higashioka behind the plate. Cole has a 3.91 ERA in eight games with Sanchez.
Though it would be grossly unfair – not to mention overly simplistic – to say Sanchez has kept Cole from being his best, the numbers are what the numbers are. And at this point of the season, with the playoffs on the horizon, any minor edge, perceived or otherwise, must be looked into.
"I think I can work with pretty much anybody," Cole said Monday, straddling the line as best he could. "There are some things that have worked out in the last few starts that may lead the manager to lean one way or the other, but ultimately it’s not my call and I’ll be ready with whoever’s out there. I think both backstops that have caught me this year have done a great job."
Boone addressed the topic in his first spring training, that time in relation to Jordan Montgomery and then backup Austin Romine. Montgomery was a revelation for then-manager Joe Girardi in 2017 as a rookie, finishing 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA. But Montgomery was better with Romine, with whom he produced a 3.68 ERA compared with a 4.50 ERA with Sanchez and Girardi, who like Boone had professed an aversion to personal catchers, mostly stuck with that combination.
"Bottom line is we’ve got an elite-level catcher [who] we’re not going to sit down and get into the personal [catcher] stuff," Boone said in March 2018. "Gary’s going to do the bulk of the catching [and] I’d prefer to stay away from matching guys up. Because then you get into a key start late in the year, you get in a playoff situation, and all of a sudden guys haven’t been together where you’re going to ride your horses. I would prefer to stay away from it."
But, as Boone said Tuesday, that die has been cast, at least for the rest of 2020 and it should not be controversial in the least. Girardi, after all, sat Jorge Posada for all five of A.J. Burnett’s five postseason starts en route to the 2009 World Series title in favor of the pitcher’s preferred catcher, Jose Molina. Boone said he is not concerned long-term at the message Sanchez, still considered the catcher of the present and future for the Yankees, might take from essentially being benched when it comes to catching Cole, a franchise cornerstone in the first season of a nine-year, $324 million deal.
"I'm not worried about it," Boone said. "We're down to the final days here of the regular season and what we hope is a long run in the postseason. And the bottom line is he's [Sanchez] going to play a huge role in that, and I look forward to him hopefully helping us win a championship."