Gary Sanchez’s playing time at risk with Kyle Higashioka’s powerful start

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CLEVELAND — When the Yankees decided to bring back Gary Sanchez, they were envisioning having a catcher who would be an extra-base machine.

That’s what they’ve got so far this season, but it’s not Sanchez. 

Kyle Higashioka homered again in Thursday’s win over the Indians at Progressive Field. It was Higashioka’s third home run of the year, another bomb to center. Of Higashioka’s six hits, five have gone for extra bases.

After his latest shot, Higashioka pointed out the key to his success.

“I think it’s just a product of my swing being in a good place,’’ Higahioka said. “I’m kind of [from] the Ted Williams school of thought: have a slight uppercut to match the plane of the pitch. It gives you the most margin for error: You miss on top, it’s a line drive, you miss underneath, it’s a homer [and] square it up, it’s a gapper. It shows my swing is where it needs to be.”

It might be hard to reconcile putting Higashioka and Williams in the same category in anything, but the results have been eye-opening this year.

As Higashioka also pointed out, he’s been more patient at the plate. In 105 plate appearances over the previous two years, Higashioka didn’t walk once. 

Through 21 plate appearances this season, he’s drawn four walks.

“I’m trying to get good pitches to hit,’’ Higashioka said. “And trying not to chase pitches and being a little more selective. I’ve actually walked this year, so that’s better.”

Higashioka has also become Gerrit Cole’s de facto personal catcher, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him play a larger role going forward. The Yankees have enough confidence in the 31-year-old that they benched Sanchez in the playoffs and went with Higashioka. 

He’s started just five of the team’s 18 games going into Friday, but he’s been especially productive.

In addition to walking more, he’s striking out less and he’s making more hard contact than at any point in his career. And he’s always been known as being solid behind the plate.

Aaron Boone didn’t rule out more playing time for Higashioka.

“Go back to last year, there were a lot of conversations about him getting in there,’’ Boone said. “He played some in the playoffs and that was about his performance. He’s a really good catcher and we’ve seen bat continue to improve. He’s creating more opportunities for himself.” 

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