Cole-Higgy battery charges Yankees vs. Jays

April 13th, 2021

The pairing of and continues to produce terrific results. That has created something of a dilemma for manager Aaron Boone, who would prefer to steer clear of a "personal catcher" arrangement, yet it is difficult to argue with a formula that works.

Cole settled in after a rocky beginning to retire the final 15 batters he faced and Higashioka supported his ace by belting two homers, and the Yankees defeated the Blue Jays, 3-1, on Monday evening at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla.

“I think he’s just a great pitcher,” Higashioka said. “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.”

Gary Sánchez was behind the plate for Cole’s Opening Day start, also against Toronto, but the Cole/Higashioka tandem continues to click -- as it did down the stretch last year, when Higashioka caught Cole’s final four regular-season starts and three more in the postseason.

Cole has a 1.52 ERA in nine starts with Higashioka, including the playoffs. Boone expects that Sánchez will catch Cole again at some point this season, but he also likes the arrangement that Cole and Higashioka have going.

“He’s going to catch him a lot,” Boone said of Higashioka. “I like it because it usually lines up with wanting to give Gary a day. There’s going to be days 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.”

Two hits, a wild pitch and a run-scoring groundout produced the first run of the game against Cole, who settled in during his second inning. He did not permit a baserunner after Rowdy Tellez’s single in the second inning, walking one and striking out eight in the 98-pitch effort.

“They were on it tonight, so I wasn’t afforded the ability to take any pitches off,” said Cole, who threw 42 pitches in the first two innings. “It was a bit of a tightrope walk early. You just try to keep the blinders on and focus on what we’re doing, and try to keep improving throughout the game.”

With 29 strikeouts this season, Cole tied David Cone (1997) for the most strikeouts recorded by a Yankees pitcher through his first three starts of a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“We’ve had a lot of good pitchers here over the years,” Cole said.

Gettin’ Higgy with it

The Yanks were held hitless by Toronto starter Robbie Ray into the fifth inning, when Rougned Odor logged a one-out single and Higashioka followed with a 416-foot blast to right-center field; the ball came off his bat at 104.7 mph.

Higashioka added a long ball in the eighth off Ryan Borucki, giving him the third multihomer game of his career -- he had a three-homer game against Toronto last Sept. 16 at Yankee Stadium.

“We know about his power,” Boone said. “He demonstrated that last year. I thought he was great behind the plate tonight, and obviously we needed every bit of it.”

According to STATS, Higashioka is the first Major League catcher to have three multihomer games within his first 12 career home runs.

“He was locked in,” Cole said. “Tough guy to pitch to right now. He’s red hot.”

Dunedin days

The contest marked the Yankees’ first regular-season game at TD Ballpark, a facility with which they are very familiar, as it is 15 miles from their Spring Training ballpark in Tampa, Fla.

“It didn’t feel like Spring Training,” Boone said. “It definitely felt like a real game tonight. I thought the conditions were pretty good. Early on, the way the sun sets, that was a little bit difficult. I know Gio [Urshela] and Gleyber [Torres] didn’t see great until it got fully dark.”

Slamming the door

The bullpen continued to excel, with Justin Wilson, Darren O’Day and Aroldis Chapman firing three scoreless innings of two-hit ball in relief of Cole. Flashing his new toy, a filthy splitter, Chapman worked around Randal Grichuk's leadoff double in the ninth, notching his first save in as many opportunities.

“I definitely think that it's going to be a big help,” Chapman said through a translator. “It’s going to help the fastball, it’s going to help the slider. So far it has been really good.”