TAMPA — After being sidelined for a week with a sore side, Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka was back in the lineup on Sunday.
The backstop battled an oblique injury during New York's coronavirus-shortened campaign a year ago. This time around, while the soreness was in a similar location, it wasn't anything serious.
"I just made sure to take a few days as a precaution," Higashioka said after coming out of Sunday's 8-3 win over the Blue Jays in Dunedin. "Just making sure I'm ready for the season. It felt good today, everything felt normal, so I'm really glad."
Higashioka was scratched from last Tuesday's contest against the Tigers with side soreness. With third-string catcher Robinson Chirinos out after fracturing his wrist on a hit by pitch earlier this spring, non-roster invitee Rob Brantly was called upon to catch ace Gerrit Cole in Lakeland.
Plenty of players take extra days off during spring training as they work toward Opening Day. Higashioka's oblique injury last season, however, turned this respite into a red flag.
The backstop missed just under a month of the regular season with a right oblique strain, landing him on the injured list. While Higashioka wasn't able to specifically diagnose what was bothering him this time around, he assured that this was "different" than what he experienced last summer.
"Obliques usually take a long time," Higashioka explained. "It's kind of in that area so I don't exactly know, but luckily it wasn't serious. It went away almost within a day or two."
Higashioka went 1-for-3 against Toronto on Sunday, slapping a line drive into center field for a single in the third inning. He now has three hits this spring over nine games played.
Regardless of the results at the plate, Yankees manager Aaron Boone was pleased with Higashioka's return to the diamond falling on the same day as Cole's penultimate start of the spring. The battery worked well together on Sunday as the right-hander struck out eight over five frames.
"Good to get Higgy back in there," Boone said after the win. "Got him a few at-bats, got to work with Gerrit the full time and everything went well there, so just good to see him back in the fold."
Despite the success the two had together as a tandem in 2020, Boone revealed on Sunday that he expects Gary Sánchez to start behind the plate on Opening Day with Cole on the mound. That doesn't mean Higashioka won't be called upon early, however, as either Sánchez's backup or his replacement (if the starting catcher can't prove that he's successfully bouncing back after last year's struggles).
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