With the Yankees’ blessing, Aaron Hicks is bunting against the shift

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Kristie Ackert, New York Daily News
·3 min read
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TAMPA — The bunt rolled up the third baseline perfectly and stopped at the bag. It was probably overshadowed on the YES Network by third base coach Phil Nevin willing it to stay fair and suggesting to the third baseman, the Pirates’ Ke’Bryan Hays, to pick it up.

But that was a loud message that Aaron Hicks is trying to send to the league. If you shift on him, the Yankees center fielder will counter with his ability to lay down a successful bunt.

“I feel like if you’re a player, you’re always trying to evolve in different ways. So I feel like my approach has been a little bit more middle of the field, trying not to roll over too much in trying to get the ball in the air, obviously is a key of mine,” Hicks said. “I feel like it’s there for me. I have plenty of speed to get there first and get hits that way. So I feel like it just kind of sets up the rest of my day.”

It sets up the rest of his day, because it’s in the head of the defenses, who usually play him heavy to shallow right-field that he can’t burn them the other way.

“On a big huge shift nobody’s at third base so, I’m kind of taking advantage of it because it’s there for me,” Hicks explained. “I’ve of kind of been overlooking it. I’ve hit in the shift way too much to learn respect for it. So I think that adding the bunt to my game is definitely going to create some problems.”

And it’s something the Yankees are encouraging him to do.

“I think it’s one of those things that if you demonstrate you can do it even once, it’s something that gets on the board with an opposing team and their scouting report,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It all of a sudden makes you have to make a real-time decision about how you’re going to defend it. Are you’re going to sell out and just still move the third baseman? So I do think there’s certainly a place for it, especially when you can do it. It’s something we’ve encouraged Aaron to do and obviously, it’s something he’s capable of doing.

“It’s good to see him already have some success with it in a spring game earlier,” Boone continued. “So there are times when absolutely, I think it’s valuable and even if you do it a couple times, and you’re successful, it goes a long way and kind of changing how they play you and eventually open it up for the field.”

HOW THEY LINE UP

This spring, Deivi Garcia and Domingo German have gone back-to-back in their battle for the fifth starting spot, but now the Yankees are spreading them out. Garcia started Friday night’s game against the Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field and Mike King will step in and start Saturday night in Sarasota against the Orioles. With Gerrit Cole starting Sunday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays, German slots in on Monday night.

“There’s nothing wrong. We had it laid out that way all along that he would start on the seventh day,” Boone said.

RX UPDATES

Backup catcher Kyle Higashioka, who was scratched from Tuesday’s game with a sore side, is making progress, but will not start on Saturday as originally planned. Boone said he will start him on Sunday, because he wanted to give starting catcher Gary Sanchez back-to-back games out of Thursday’s off-day. That also means he will be back catching Gerrit Cole, who made it clear that Higashioka was his preferred catcher last season.

Clarke Schmidt, who suffered a strain in his right elbow during his first bullpen of camp, still has not progressed to throwing. On Monday, it will be a month since he had been shut down.