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Yankees 6, Tigers 2: Higgy’s strong spring continues

The Yankee catcher drove in three to pace the club in a Grapefruit League win.

Kyle Higashioka During Spring Training Photo by J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images

I was going to spend a lot of this recap chewing about how this Yankees/Tigers game wasn’t televised, but I’ll just make one big gripe here. It was very, very dumb that this Yankees/Tigers game wasn’t on TV. A Gerrit Cole start on a Friday afternoon where both teams started a lot of their Opening Day bats? Instead, we were forced to, during the most dramatic part of the game, listen to John and Suzyn talk about a Florida county parks and rec representative from 80 years ago, all while Cole was navigating a bases-loaded, no-out situation. Just nonsense.

Anyway, the Yankees fell behind early, but that reliable power slugger Kyle Higashioka got them back into the game, and they pulled away from the Tigers with a 6-2 win down in Lakeland.

What to make of Gerrit Cole’s start today? He was quite good the first time through the order, and his command, a big part of what this start was all about, seemed much better than Sunday, especially with his fastball:

This was Cole’s first inning, and you can see how none of these fastballs leak over the zone — lots of pitches on the black, around the edge of the strike zone, and really only one bad miss up. This is a very encouraging sign.

But then came the third inning. Cole gave up a triple to Tigers prospect Riley Greene and walked the next two batters, loading the bases with nobody out as mentioned above. What happened? That command began to slip:

Cole started to badly miss the zone, and the fastballs in the zone were much closer to the middle of the plate. The ball that Greene hits for a triple was a changeup that hung, just like one of the home run balls that Cole surrendered on Sunday.

It’s only spring training, so caveats caveats caveats, but it’s worth at least wondering if this is the bigger impact of sticky stuff crackdowns. Cole’s always had a wicked fastball in terms of raw stuff, all the way back to his high school days. It’s at least plausible that the real edge gained was an ability to put the ball exactly where he wanted it, improving his command over anything else.

Then again, it’s just spring training, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he comes out next Thursday and strikes out 10 Red Sox in six innings. Gerrit Cole is a veteran — who knows if he’s taking spring training all that seriously? As long as he’s healthy, there’s nothing really to worry about.

Offensively, Kyle Higashioka hit another home run, his fifth of the spring. Apparently, Josh Donaldson has impressed upon him the value of hitting the ball in the air (who knew), and if Higgy can approach the consistently league-average offense that Gary Sánchez could provide, a lot of the questions around the Yankee catching situation would be cleared up. Higgy also added a run-scoring single in the seventh, followed by Anthony Rizzo chipping in with a two-run base hit of his own.

The five-run seventh put the game away for the Yankees as Chad Green, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Albert Abreu all got work in as they continued their ramp-up toward Opening Day. Abreu, in tough competition to make the roster now that he has no minor league options remaining, faced five men and retired them all, including striking out two in the ninth.

The Yankees will take on the defending World Series champions tomorrow, as the Atlanta Braves come to Tampa with Charlie Morton and Luis Severino getting the starts at 1:05pm ET.

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