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Despite Gary Sanchez's hot bat, Yanks go with Kyle Higashioka behind plate

Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) puts his

Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) puts his glove to the chest pad of Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Thursday, June 3, 2021, at Yankee Stadium. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

It’s been apparent for a couple of weeks now that Gary Sanchez reclaimed the starting catcher’s job he lost earlier in the season.

Except on the nights (or days) that Gerrit Cole is pitching.

The Yankees chose to rest their hottest bat – the one belonging to Sanchez – Tuesday night with Cole taking the mound against the Royals at the Stadium. And, per his and the organization’s preference, Kyle Higashioka was behind the plate.

"Definitely a consideration," Boone said before the game of pairing Sanchez with Cole Tuesday.

The 28-year-old Sanchez came into Tuesday hitting .237 with 11 homers and an .820 OPS, but he’s been on fire of late, hitting .344 (22-for-64) with six homers and a 1.127 OPS in his previous 20 games.

Still, while Sanchez did catch Cole on Opening Day and Boone said Tuesday "I do plan on at some point this season" having that again be a battery, the reality remains this: if the over/under was set at two for the number of times Sanchez will catch Cole the rest of the regular season, the safe bet is to take the under.

"Obviously, I really like the pairing and like the dynamic that they have," Boone said of Higashioka and Cole.

Which dates back to last season when Higashioka essentially became Cole’s personal catcher down the stretch, though the Yankees went to great lengths to not call it that.

The ace went 3-1 with a 1.00 ERA over his last four regular season starts with Higashioka, then 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA in three postseason starts, again with the backup catcher behind the plate.

"I think very highly as Higgy as a catcher," Boone said.

The fourth-year manager said there’s also the element of the calendar "lining up" to the point it makes sense to give Sanchez an off day – the case with every starting catcher in the big leagues – it just so happens those come up the days Cole is pitching.

"I look at is as he (Sanchez) probably has to have a day (off) every turn through (the rotation) anyway, and because the pairing with Gerrit and Higgy has been so dynamic and because I think highly of Higgy and wanting to get him in there as well…that’s the reason," Boone said. "But I definitely had some pause (of possibly catching Sanchez) coming out of the off day (Monday)." And Boone stressed he would not pause in pulling the plug on Higashioka in-game, the case in the seventh inning last Wednesday in Buffalo when, with Cole still in the game, he sent up Sanchez as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. Sanchez’s two-run homer turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead and, ultimately, a one-run victory by the same score. Higashioka entered Tuesday hitting .145 with two homers and a .474 OPS over his last 24 games.

"Obviously, we know when Gary is going, what a difference-maker he can be," Boone said earlier this month.

Over the weekend, Boone credited Sanchez showing the "courage" to make a mechanical adjustment to his swing – primarily, getting rid of a pronounced leg kick – and doing so during the season, shortly after his benching in late April.

"Even going back to last year, he had that leg kick that I think was getting him in between a little bit and messing with his timing, especially on good fastballs," Boone said. "He’s worked really, really hard behind the scenes, too, and having the courage to make some real adjustments. But it’s been rooted in a lot of hard work and a lot of hours and correcting that, and now you’re seeing a real quiet lower half, a much more balanced hitter…the major-league season can be such a grind and it’s hard to make real significant mechanical changes when you’re in a day-to-day game, and he’s made those."

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