Yankees manager Aaron Boone confirmed Monday that Kyle Higashioka will catch for Gerrit Cole in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series against Cleveland. Starting catcher Gary Sanchez will be available off the bench.
With Higashioka catching, Cole is 3-1 with a 1.00 ERA with 34 strikeouts. When Sanchez is catching, Cole is 4-2 with a 3.91 ERA, 12 walks and an opponent OPS of .776. Cole's last start of the regular season on Tuesday, against the Blue Jays, was the fourth consecutive time that Higashioka was paired with him.
The announcement isn't entirely a surprise, considering the fact that general manager Brian Cashman told reporters Higashioka was going to be paired with Cole and Boone has hinted at splitting catching duties between Higashioka and Sanchez during the playoffs. But, the move serves as another stark reminder of Sanchez's struggles this year.
Sanchez, 27, finished the 60-game regular season with miserable numbers at the plate.
Sanchez had just 10 hits in his last 70 at-bats and finished the regular season with a .147/.253/.365 slash line and .618 OPS. Just three times this season was Sanchez able to record two hits in a game. Sanchez's contact percentage of 68.4 percent and strikeout percentage of 36 percent are his worst marks since making his MLB debut in 2016. The short sample size because of the abbreviated season should be noted. Meanwhile, Higashioka has made an impact with his increased playing time, posting a .256/.256/.590 in September.
Behind the plate, Sanchez has sported a revamped, one-knee position this season. It's helped to improve his overall catching defensive statistics, but Sanchez still recorded four catcher's interference errors and five passed balls on the year. His five passed balls are tied for most in the American League in 2020. And that comes after the catcher also led MLB in passed balls in 2018 and 2017, with 18 and 16, respectively.
Just three years ago, the All-Star catcher enjoyed one of the greatest summers in franchise history when he helped lead the Yankees on an unexpected 2017 run to the American League Championship Series. Now, Sanchez's future with the club seems murky. This offseason, the Yankees and Sanchez agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal to avoid arbitration, but he'll be eligible again for arbitration this winter. Sanchez is set to become a free agent in 2023.
"I don't focus on just who is behind the plate," Sanchez said on Saturday, via MLB.com's Bryan Hoch. "We're a team, and that's what is important for people to understand. We have a team here, and bottom line is winning. I'm a soldier on this team, and if my name is in the lineup, I'm going to be ready for that. If I'm not starting, I'm going to be ready on the bench."
It's been an up-and-down career throughout Sanchez's five years in the big leagues. He looked like he had taken a step forward last season, regaining the power he seemed to have lost in 2018. But it's been another down year for the Yankees catcher. When and if Sanchez does get his shot for playing time in this year's postseason, he's going to have to try to make the absolute best out of it.
The Yankees will face Cleveland in Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series (best-of-three) on Tuesday. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. ET at Progressive Field. You can find the full playoff bracket here.