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Gerrit Cole ended his first season with the Yankees in strong fashion, with four straight solid starts to finish the regular season and three more in the playoffs.
The common factor in those outings was a change behind the plate, with Kyle Higahioka starting each of those games instead of Gary Sanchez.
The numbers pitching to Higashioka were significantly better for Cole, and now that the Yankees seem committed to bringing Sanchez back after tendering him a contract, one of their next significant decisions will be whether to pair their ace with Sanchez or Higashioka.
In an interview on the YES Network’s “Hot Stove” that aired Thursday, Cole said he expected to work with both backstops during spring training.
“I would assume so,’’ Cole said. “We’re fortunate to have two tremendous catchers.”
The Yankees did their best to avoid making an issue of Higashioka taking over for Sanchez when Cole was pitching, but the results were impossible to ignore.
After allowing nine runs in 10 innings over his final two outings in August, Cole’s ERA rose to a season-high 3.91.
In his next four starts — all working with Higashioka — Cole had a 1.00 ERA and the two were effective together in the playoffs.
By the end of the postseason, though, Sanchez’s struggles had become so immense that Aaron Boone went with Higashioka in all but two playoff games.
On Wednesday, general manager Brian Cashman called Sanchez the “heir apparent” at catcher, but noted that Higashioka had “a chance to compete to be an everyday guy.’’
Sanchez will look to prove that the shortened 2020 season was what Cashman called “an aberration,” and in addition to improving at the plate, Sanchez will no doubt try to show that he’s able to get the best out of Cole, who signed to a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees last offseason.
The Yankees are looking to add to their rotation behind Cole, with Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ all free agents.
Their offseason plans are currently tied up in waiting for DJ LeMahieu to make a decision about returning to The Bronx, which will play a role in whether the Yankees can afford to bring in another starter.
If not, Cashman has said they’ll have to rely on Luis Severino returning from Tommy John surgery, Domingo German returning to 2019 form after serving his suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy and a bunch of young arms led by Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt.
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