This was the case towards the end of last season, with Higashioka becoming Cole’s personal pitcher down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before the season that Sanchez would get in there as Cole’s pitcher again this season, which was true — Sanchez caught for Cole on Opening Day.
But two starts later with Higashioka at catcher, and we can see that Opening Day was Cole’s worst outing of the three — despite the fact that Cole has looked like every bit of an ace in all three starts.
Monday night, after a “shaky” start that saw Cole give up a run in the first and allow three hits before the end of the second inning, the ace tore apart the Blue Jay’s lineup, retiring the final 15 batters he faced. He finished with another eight strikeouts and just one walk to go along with the three hits and one earned run in 6.0 innings.
Rewind to last week against the Orioles with Higashioka in for Sanchez, and Cole pitched arguably his best game in pinstripes, striking out 13 batters, allowing just four hits and no walks in 7.0 innings.
On Opening Day, the Cole-Sanchez battery produced two earned runs on five hits and two walks, to go with eight strikeouts in 5.1 innings. Still great numbers and it was the first game of the season, but the Cole-Higashioka results speak for themselves.
After the game, Boone addressed the obvious question of who play with Cole.
“Full time? No. I mean, he’s going to catch him a lot and I like it cause it usually lines up with wanting to give Gary a day,” Boone said. “I also feel really good about Gary catching. I thought they were really good on Opening Day, so there’s going to be games where Gary catches him.
“But as the schedule unfolds, a lot of times it’s going to work out that it makes sense to get Higgy in there and that’s his day…I certainly like the combination.”
If the combination’s success wasn’t enough on Monday night, then maybe Higashioka’s two bombs out to center might do the trick, considering his bat all but gave the Yankees the win on a night where the first five batters in the order combined to go 0-for-16.
“He was locked in,” Cole said on Higashioka’s at-bats. “Back side and pull, I mean…tough guy to pitch to right now. Red hot.”
Higashioka is batting .571 on the season, though he’s only come up to the plate seven times so far.
“It was good,” Higashioka said on his overall night. “I think the most satisfying part was after kind of a rough first inning or two, kinda calmed down and got in our groove. …It looked like it was going to be a tough game, but credit to Gerrit, he really locked it in.
“I just think that he’s a great pitcher, and every time he goes out there he mentally and physically prepares 100 percent, so you know you’re getting his best effort no matter what. That makes our job as catchers easy, because when somebody really prepares himself for every game, you know you’re getting the best of them every single time.”