Not even the possibility of elimination from the playoffs could get Gary Sanchez back his spot in the Yankees’ lineup.
For the second straight game and third in the series, manager Aaron Boone benched Sanchez and started Kyle Higashioka behind the plate for Game 4 of the ALDS Thursday night at Petco Park in San Diego.
Higashioka went 2-for-4 with an RBI as the Yankees beat the Rays, 5-1, to even the best-of-five series at two games apiece.
Higashioka went 0-for-3 in Wednesday’s 8-4 Yankees loss in Game 3 and was removed for a pinch hitter – not Sanchez – in the ninth inning. Higashioka is 5-for-16 with a home run in four postseason starts.
Sanchez has started two games this postseason – each series’ second game. He went a combined 1-for-8 with a home run, three RBIs and four strikeouts.
"Another close call for me," Boone said. "It comes down to more Kyle earning these opportunities. I feel like he’s providing enough for us offensively and doing a great job behind the plate. Honestly, felt like I could have gone with Gary, as well, and would have felt good about that. But in the end, after contemplating it, talking with some coaches a little bit, just felt like this was the way I wanted to go today."
It wasn’t on the front burner because the Yankees were one loss away from elimination, but Boone’s benchings of Sanchez have to cast doubt on the 27-year-old’s future with the club.
Sanchez, never the greatest defensive catcher, hit .147 this season. His career postseason batting average going into Thursday was .173 in 29 games. Sanchez hits with prodigious power, but his postseason results suggest better pitchers can exploit the holes in his swing.
It would be easy to suggest moving Sanchez to a full-time designated hitter spot in future seasons, but Giancarlo Stanton is signed through 2028 and you can only have one DH per team per game.
But that’s a discussion for another day. The Yankees were hoping to extend the series on Thursday night and have a deep postseason run that includes playing time for both of their catchers. They still have that opportunity.
"If we’re going to go on and win a world championship, Gary’s going to play a big role," Boone said before Game 4.
Thursday’s starting pitcher, Jordan Montgomery, had a 3.77 ERA in three games with Higashioka behind the plate this season. It was 6.23 in six games with Sanchez catching and 2.45 in one short outing with Erik Kratz behind the plate. Kratz is not on the roster for the ALDS.
"I do feel good about Higgy and just his ability and how well he receives the ball and how good he is in the dirt, which all becomes important," Boone said. "But again, I would have felt that way about Gary had I gone that way. Higgy is, I feel like, playing really well right now and again, offensively he’s been giving us some quality at-bats at the bottom of the order. One of Higgy’s overwhelming strengths -- and why you consider him -- is because of how good he is behind the plate."