Kyle Higashioka credits Josh Donaldson for hot start at plate
TAMPA, Fla. — Kyle Higashioka stroked his fourth home run of spring training when he belted a two-run shot to right in the fifth inning of the Yankees’ 14-2 victory over the Phillies on Tuesday at Steinbrenner Field.
Higashioka, the Yankees’ presumptive No. 1 catcher with Gary Sanchez traded to Minnesota, is 7-for-15 (.467) in spring training.
Defense has always been the 31-year-old’s calling card, but he has shown spurts of power during his days as Sanchez’s backup.
“That power is there,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He wants to prove he can do it offensively, too.”
Higashioka credits part of his hot start to new teammate Josh Donaldson. When Higashioka was in Single-A in 2015, he started patterning his batting style after Donaldson, who was then in his AL MVP season with Toronto.
But Higashioka said he never spoke to Donaldson about that until this spring when they became teammates — especially not last season, when Donaldson and the Yankees were “enemies” because of comments the then-Twins slugger made about Gerrit Cole and sticky stuff on the baseball.
“Last year, we were kind of like” — Higashioka paused and bumped his fists together — “because of the whole [situation]. I wasn’t supposed to say hi to him or anything at the plate. I think we’re past that.”
Higashioka said he went up to Donaldson the first chance he could in camp.
“I sought him out to try to just pick his brain,” Higashioka said. “I’ve been trying to do that since basically he got here. It’s been rewarding, I’d say.”
Higashioka explained it this way: “When I revamped my swing in ’15 in the minors — I’m not going anywhere — I kind of modeled it after him. But I realized I couldn’t do the huge leg lift and all that stuff. The underlying principles were the same. Mechanically, he kind of speaks the same language as me. Now, the first time I’ve been able to talk to him, the approach is where he really excels.”
Non-roster utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, who started at first, continued his torrid spring by going 3-for-3 with his third home run, a three-run shot in the second off Aaron Nola. Gonzalez, who had four RBIs, is 6-for-11 (.545).
Aaron Judge started in center with Aaron Hicks in left and Giancarlo Stanton in right as Boone continues to use spring training to experiment. Boone explained he may prefer to use Hicks in the larger Yankee Stadium leftfield during the season rather than move Judge or Stanton there when Stanton plays the outfield. Hicks hasn’t played left in the regular season since 2017. In seven innings in center, Judge had no balls hit his way. Boone also said he plans to get Joey Gallo a game in center before camp breaks.