With another slew of injuries, the Yankees aren’t taking chances
By James Wagner
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The New York Yankees have one of the best records in Major League Baseball despite missing several star players to injury.
No, this is not 2019, when the Yankees endured a nightmarish run of setbacks and sent a major-league record 30 players to the injured list. But this season has certainly felt eerily similar in the Bronx.
In the span of eight days, the Yankees placed three of their best players — outfielders Giancarlo Stanton (left hamstring strain) and Aaron Judge (right calf strain), and infielder D.J. LeMahieu — on the 10-day injured list. LeMahieu, who was hitting an American League-leading .411, was the latest casualty, exiting Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox with a left thumb sprain.
Losing three All-Star-caliber players at once is painful enough during a traditional 162-game regular season. But in this pandemic-shortened 60-game campaign, a minimum stint on the 10-day injured list is the equivalent of missing 27 days in a normal year.
“Any time off is not good,” Judge said Sunday. “That’s why I was begging for just a couple days, not really 10 days.”
The shorter-than-usual run-up to this unusual season has been seen as a contributing factor to the current rash of injuries, particularly to pitchers, across baseball. The Yankees, despite overhauling their medical and training departments last offseason, have not been an exception, with injuries to reliever Tommy Kahnle (Tommy John surgery), catcher Kyle Higashioka (right oblique strain), Stanton, Judge and LeMahieu.
The hamstring strain was particularly frustrating for Stanton, who played in just 23 games between the regular season and playoffs last year because of a slew of injuries. He missed a chunk of this spring training with a calf injury.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of last season, Stanton, listed at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, said he lost 20 pounds in an effort to get back to the physique of the earlier, healthier years of his career. It seemed to be working: He looked like the 2017 NL MVP version of himself, hitting .293 with three home runs.
Still, Stanton hurt his leg while running the bases on Aug. 8, during the same seven-inning doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays in which Judge began feeling tightness in his calf. Stanton said his body was having trouble catching up to the rigors of playing regularly after being absent for so much of the past few seasons.
“Words can’t really describe the disappointment I’ve had over this,” said Stanton, who is in the middle of a three- to four-week recovery. “I can’t dwell on it. I have to see what’s in front of me and that’s still a decent amount of the season and playoffs left. Though I was in this situation before, it seems unreal at times.”
On the bright side for the Yankees, their star closer, Aroldis Chapman, who tested positive for the coronavirus on July 11, was added to the active roster before Monday’s game against the Red Sox.
LeMahieu, the Yankees’ best all-around player last season, could miss about two to three weeks, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Monday. In 2018, LeMahieu missed two weeks with a similar left thumb sprain and a small fracture. This time, Boone said, there were no broken bones.
And Judge, who planned to resume batting practice Monday after a few days off, said he expected to come off the IL as soon as he was eligible Saturday, against the New York Mets.
Judge, who leads the Yankees with nine home runs, said he begged the team’s doctors, trainers and Boone not to place him on the IL. He felt he needed only a handful of days off to recover from tightness in his calves, which he believed arose from playing against the Rays on the artificial turf at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. On Sunday, Judge declared that he was at 100 percent and felt like he could have played in a game that day.
Boone, though, said the decision to place Judge on the IL was easy because he did not want a soft tissue injury to become a larger problem. Judge said multiple times Sunday that he was frustrated, but he clarified it wasn’t directed at the team.
“I’m frustrated with myself not being out there,” he said. “They’re just looking out for me and what’s best for me.”
Although the Yankees won’t return to Tropicana Field during the regular season, they could end up as postseason opponents. To alleviate the wear and tear of artificial turf on his legs in the future, Judge said he planned to wear sneakers when he played defense but to switch to cleats when he was hitting (the batter’s box and basepaths are dirt), a plan he came up with after talking to other players with experience playing at the stadium.
“It’s just easier on your body and easier on your knees because you don’t have all that body weight going down into nine little spikes,” Judge said of wearing tennis shoes.
The good news for the Yankees is that few MLB organizations are as equipped to handle injury absences as they are. Entering Monday, Clint Frazier was 8 for 15 with two home runs while filling in for Judge. The Yankees filled LeMahieu’s spot on the active roster with infielder-outfielder Miguel Andujar, who was the runner-up for the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year Award but had recently been at the team’s alternate site.
“We don’t skip a beat, and you’re not going to find that on very many teams,” Yankees reliever Zack Britton said.