BALTIMORE — Kyle Higashioka continues to make the case for more playing time, behind the plate and at it. Tuesday night, not only did Higashioka hit his fourth home run of the season, but he helped guide Corey Kluber to his best start as a Yankee — and his first win in over two years.
Both Higshioka’s bat and Kluber’s improvement will have long-term effects for the Yankees. Tuesday night, it was enough to spark the Yankees to a 5-1 win over the Orioles at Camden Yards.
That snapped a two-game losing streak for the Yankees (10-13) and a four-game losing streak to the Orioles (10-13) at Camden Yards. The Yankees hit three homers with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton also going deep. After hitting 17 homers in the first 17 games of the season, the Bombers have hit 12 in their last six games.
Kluber picked up his first win since April 20, 2019.
Higashioka finished with two hits.
“He’s just earned more playing time. I mean, simple as that,” Yankee manager Aaron Boone said before the game. “Obviously, he’s done a great job. . .I think the way he’s played here at the onset of the season, it has earned him some more opportunities.”
The offense had flashed its power over the weekend in Cleveland, but Tuesday night was the first time that Kluber showed some of what had won him the CY Young twice. The 35-year old right-hander, who came into Tuesday night’s game with a 5.40 ERA, went 6.2 innings for a quality start for the first time as a Yankee. He allowed just one run on six hits. He walked two and struck out five
Having not pitched this much since 2018, Kluber had said he was close to turning it on in his last four starts. Tuesday was the first real evidence of that.
“I think that obviously, getting the win is the most important thing. But it was good to . . . finally go out there and kind of string together a good outing,” Kluber said.
And you have to wonder if Higashioka being back there helped. Kluber never noticeably shook off the catcher and seemed at ease. Like Gerrit Cole, who prefers throwing to Higashioka, Kluber seemed to trust the 31-year old.
“I think we did a good job of having a game plan coming into it and communicating well on that and then going out there and executing it,” Kluber said of working with Higashioka. “I think that the more on the same page you can be with your catcher, it just gives you that freedom to go out there and worry about executing pitches and not so much this pitch versus that pitch.
“So like I said, I thought that tonight we did a really good job of that before the game.”
That, combined with the power that is starting to show itself over the last year, is earning Higashioka more starts — at the expense of Gary Sanchez. Though he has improved behind the plate, Sanchez is hitting just .182/.308/.309 with two home runs in 55 at-bats. He was mired in a 2-for-28 slump without an extra base hit.
Higashioka has provided a spark with the Yankees at times with power. He’s slashing .286/.400/.810 with three home runs in 21 at-bats.
“Confidence is the key,” Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thamas said about Higashioka’s start, the best of his career. “I told him that two years ago. . . when he first came up to the big leagues, his body language is just tremendous. He’d go up to the plate, he’s just as loose as possible. Then when he got to the big leagues, he started pressing a little bit, a little bit of tension.
“So I just think that he’s putting in his homework,” Thames said of Higashioka’s success at the plate this season. “He’s confident and he’s having fun.”
“I don’t really have much of an explanation,” Higashioka said. “I just feel a little more comfortable. After last year, kind of piggybacking on the success at the end of last year at the plate, gives you more confidence. Always making sure you’re prepared to face every pitcher in terms of video work and studying all that stuff. Marcus has been really big on making sure that I’ve put as much emphasis on studying the opposing pitchers as I do studying the opposing hitters. So I think that’s been a big key for me.”
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