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Yankees lose another "bronx bomber" to injured list


Evan Ferguson, Sports Editor

There have not been many routine games for the Yankees in terms of pure stress-free moments and routine blowouts. Saturday was shaping up to be one as the Yankees held a six-run lead with three innings left, hours after manager Aaron Boone said one of his injured players was close. Then Aaron Judge hit what seemed to be a routine single. Except it was not routine. Upon swinging he winced, then he labored and finally the all too familiar site – trainer Steve Donahue popping out of the dugout.

Next thing you knew, Judge was out of the game and on his way for an MRI.

Then the shock, a left oblique injury and the glum reality of manager Aaron Boone saying "probably not" when asked Judge could avoid the injured list. By 10 am Sunday morning, the reality hit with the release of a lineup that included Brett Gardner hitting third and Clint Frazier batting fourth and Mike Tauchman hitting fifth. It's the cost of doing business when you're managing a team whose injured list includes 13 players, including seven who accounted for 175 of 267 homers last season, 515 of 851 of runs and 515 of 821 RBIs.

Then the further reality when Boone described the injury as "pretty significant".

Now comes the part of figuring out when Judge will be back, but after the events of last year with his broken wrist, he does not want to put a timeline on it. And based on what happened then, who could blame him? If you remember upon getting hit with a fastball by Kansas City starting pitcher Jakob Junis on July 26, the Yankees thought he would be able to swing a bat on the field three weeks later. It wound up being an incorrect estimate and it took the Yankees 45 games to get Judge back, a stretch in which they won 25 games.

"There’s no need to put a clock on it because that’s what we did with the wrist last year,’’ Judge said. “There’s no need to go down that road again.”

The injuries started in spring training with Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks going down after signing contract extensions followed be Dellin Betances. Then after three games, Miguel Andujar and Giancarlo Stanton went down. Then early in the sixth game, Troy Tulowitzki went down. Then Gary Sanchez, though he seems to be close to returning and Stanton seems like he might be next.

The Yankees have played 21 games, have used 20 different starting lineups and seen 33 players appear. They've used the phrases step up and next man up numerous times because what else can they say?

This is the hand they are dealing with and they do not have a choice in the matter. But with every adverse injury situation comes opportunity and it seems the Yankees are learning Clint Frazier can be an everyday player. The Yankees believed it when he was part of the package acquired from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller trade in July 2016. They talked up his bat speed and he gave glimpses of it, hitting a walk-off three-run homer against Milwaukee in July 2017. Then he batted .265 in a cameo with the Yankees last season when he dealt with a concussion. This year, Frazier struggled in spring training but was quickly back up to replace Stanton. Since getting the opportunity, he is batting .339, posting an OPS of 1.019 and has six homers in 17 games. He's also showing the bat speed the Yankees talked about with an exit velocity of 89, good for the 62nd percentile. These are the kind of things the Yankees are not surprised about even in the face of an absurd amount of injuries.

“He’s been an impact player for us," Boone said. "Surprised? I don’t know. We’ve never questioned the ability or the talent. Even last year, my first time being around him and going through a year where he dealt with a lot with the concussion stuff, I still saw glimpses of what you viewed as what was going to be a good major league hitter." There are a few unemployed outfielders in the likes of Jose Bautista, Denard Span and Austin Jackson but they seem unlikely to join the Yankees, especially if Stanton comes back in the next few weeks and is followed by Hicks.

In the meantime, the Yankees will continue to press on and accept their current reality until things improve on the medical front.