On any given day, the Yankees feel like they have 11 capable position players for nine spots. Marwin Gonzalez and Tim Locastro are the only true bench players, in that they typically come to the ballpark expecting to be on the bench.
The catchers, Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino, are being treated more as a combined entity than a true starter and backup. Gleyber Torres, who has come off the bench a fair amount in the early going, also plays regularly enough – and is still considered integral enough to the team, despite his down year in 2021 – to avoid being a traditional reserve.
Because of this, the Yankees are able to mix and match their lineups based on that day’s matchup. It’s a strategy that has become much more en vogue in recent years and paid off handsomely for teams like the Rays and Giants, who rarely roll out the same lineup in consecutive games.
On Friday, manager Aaron Boone decided Aaron Hicks would be one of the odd men out of the starting lineup vs. Cleveland. Aaron Judge took his place in center field, with Giancarlo Stanton taking right and DJ LeMahieu serving as designated hitter with Torres getting the start at second. It’s the Yankees’ 14th different lineup in their first 14 games. Boone opened his pregame press conference by explaining the reasoning behind Hicks’ day off.
“Just looking at the next couple days, we have a day game: [on Saturday] after a night game, ”the skipper said. “I just felt like this was the one: [to give him a day off]. ”
As for his catchers, Boone does not have them in traditional roles either. Trevino got his fifth start behind the dish on Friday night, which is never really in place of Higashioka, Boone explained, but in fact how he always viewed the situation playing out.
“I view it as a tandem right now,” Boone stated. “Obviously, we have Ben: [Rortvedt] down there too working his way back. But yeah, I view it more as a tandem. ”
Trevino, a relative unknown to most baseball fans, started his Yankee career with five hits across his first 12 plate appearances (.417 average) before taking a 0-for-3 on Friday night. That average is surely more than the Yankees would have expected, but it speaks to the idea that neither he nor Higashioka are really the second string, rather two capable players who will each get their reps.
“Jose’s been great in every way for us,” Boone said. “Great in our room, great behind the plate, he’s had a lot of good at-bats and he’s running the bases well.”
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK:
For years now, Cleveland has been known for having otherworldly starting pitching.
The kid they sent to the mound on Friday night, 25-year-old Eli Morgan, still has a long way to go to reach the Shane Bieber level, but he did have one of his best days in the big leagues at Yankee Stadium.
On Sept. 19, 2021, with the Yankees fighting tooth and nail just to get into the playoffs, Morgan outdueled Gerrit Cole in an eventual 11-1 Cleveland win. Morgan went six innings on that Sunday afternoon, issuing just a solitary run on a solo homer, throwing 62 strikes on 85 pitches without a single walk.
Boone remembers that game well, particularly one of the youngster’s pitches.
“We’re familiar with him,” Boone said before the game. “He’s got an outstanding changeup and some real pitchability. Hopefully, we can make it tough on him. ”
They did enough to make things tough on him during Friday night’s win, knocking Morgan out after just three innings, two walks and two earned runs.
KING OF THE HILL:
A man who was once a middle relief afterthought has morphed into one of the most important components of the Yankee bullpen.
Michael King, a former 12th round pick by the Marlins who the Yankees picked up in the Garrett Cooper trade, has been dominant. While the right-hander curiously did not pitch at all in the short midweek series in Detroit, King has lived up to his royal name thus far in 2022.
Yes, it’s only five outings into his season, but King has struck out 18 of the 41 hitters he’s faced (43.9%) after fanning eight Guardians in three innings on Friday. If you’re into Wins Above Replacement this early in the year, King was the best reliever in all of Major League Baseball entering Friday’s slate of games. Two major things have changed for King: he’s mostly ditched his slider in favor of a four-seam fastball, and he changed his jersey number.
King went from wearing No. 73 (a typically obscure number for a young, unproven player on a team with 22 retired numbers) to No. 34. He said he asked for 34 because he was a big Roy Halladay fan growing up. Justin Wilson had the number last year, but was traded to Cincinnati in July. When the Yankees broke camp this season without a No. 34, King pounced on it.