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Yankees At-Bat of the Week: Kyle Higashioka (8/10)

Higashioka delivered his biggest hit of the year against Robbie Ray.

MLB: New York Yankees at Seattle Mariners Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

My excitement has been building up for days now. It’s not often that you get to feature one of the Yankees players at the bottom of the depth in chart in a series like this. Usually in the course of a six-game week, one of the better players on the team has an at-bat worth featuring, but in this case, Kyle Higashioka trumped all of his teammates.

In the seventh inning of a rubber matchup against the Seattle Mariners, Higgy came in clutch against the defending AL Cy Young award winner, Robbie Ray. Higgy had a long extended power outage to start the season after showing formidable power for the first few years of his career. Lately, he has been battling at-bats and has looked more comfortable in his limited playing time. He’s not an average hitter by any means, but he was always good for a home run here and there. This was one of the those cases.

You love getting ahead in counts against strikeout pitchers, especially if you’re prone to the K. From here, it lets Higgy sit on a fastball for at least one pitch.

This is a very great location from Ray, along with a favorable call. After falling behind in the count, Ray had to be aggressive right away. Let’s add some important context to that: up one run with a runner on base and one out, Ray could not afford to fall down 2-0. Aaron Judge is in the hole and you’re well north of 100 pitches at this point. Your coach is leaning on you to get through this with a taxed bullpen and eight outs to go. A 1-1 count is a much better position and is probably more of an advantage to Ray despite the even count.

To me, this is a sign that Ray was losing his mechanics and feel. He let this one fly away out of the zone. His approach remained consistent with another fastball against Higgy. There is no reason for the Yankees backstop to stray away from sitting fastball. Ray has made it clear he will force Higgy to beat him. 2-1 count.

Ooof. This is a tough spot Ray, and a great one for Higashioka. Even if Ray goes to one of his elite breakers, Higgy has no reason to swing in the 3-1 count. Ray is losing the zone, and you have two of the best hitters in the world coming up. Take your best possible swing against a fastball in the zone. Do not stray from that path.

A fifth straight fastball away! Like I said, there is no reason for Higgy to swing here unless the pitch was center cut. Ray must have a lot of confidence that he can get Higashioka with a fastball, since that is all he has offered thus far, and is all he will for the rest of the at-bat. Heading into a 3-2 count, I’d be shocked if Ray attacked with anything other than a fastball.

As expected! This one wasn’t too much a meatball though. No. 66 did a good job of fighting this off and hoping for an even better pitch to hit in the full count repeat. Like the rest of the at-bat, the only pitch here is a fastball. In a way, it’s disrespectful, but Ray thinks he is the better player, so why not?

Sometimes it doesn’t matter who the hitter is. When you challenge a major leaguer with seven consecutive fastballs, you deserve to lose the at-bat. It was the third time Ray was facing Higgy and he was north of 110 pitches. I understand he didn’t want to face Judge and was doing everything he could to avoid it, but this is awful pitch calling and decision making from the pitcher-catcher duo. There aren’t many circumstances where the Yanks’ backstop is going deep, but if I could write up the perfect situation, it would be against a lefty who he has seen multiple times and has timed up well. Add on the spamming the same pitch and voila, you have yourself a go ahead home run. Great job Higgy.