Yankees’ spring training starts with Gary Sanchez twist

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Kyle Higashioka certainly looked like Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher in the latter part of 2020, but manager Aaron Boone insisted Wednesday that Gary Sanchez would work with the Yankees’ ace this spring with the idea of catching him during the regular season.

“I don’t have a plan of pairing [Cole and Higashioka],’’ Boone said during his Zoom call with reporters from Tampa. “We’ll come in with the idea of Gary or Kyle will both work with all pitchers this spring in bullpens and into spring games.”

In his first season in The Bronx, Cole pitched more effectively with Higashioka behind the plate and that continued into the playoffs, which helped lead to Sanchez losing his starting role in the postseason.

Boone said he saw Sanchez on Wednesday, when pitchers and catchers got their physicals and the catcher “looks good.”

Sanchez is looking to put a nightmarish 2020 behind him, when he underperformed at the plate and defensively. Despite the results, the Yankees declined to trade or designate Sanchez for assignment and gave him a raise from $5 million to $6.35 million.

Gerrit Cole and Gary Sanchez on Aug. 19, 2020
Gerrit Cole and Gary Sanchez on Aug. 19, 2020
Paul J. Bereswill

“I’m excited about where he’s at,’’ said Boone, who added Sanchez was “coming off a tough season.”

Sanchez is one of many players who seemed to be adversely affected by the shortened schedule a year ago. The 28-year-old expressed disappointment in an interview with ESPN during the offseason about how his benching was handled during the playoffs.

“We had some really good conversations and put some really good things in place that will hopefully allow him to grow,’’ Boone said. “We demonstrated with our actions we believe in him. He can be a game-changer at the plate when he’s right. Hopefully, this is the year he puts it all together. We have a lot of confidence in that, but we’ve got to get it out of him, too.”

The Yankees also picked up another catcher, signing Robinson Chirinos to a minor-league deal. 

Chirinos, 36, caught Cole when the two were in Houston in 2019. 

Boone said he liked Chirinos’ track record and the signing was about a “really good player falling into our lap late in the game.”

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