The Yankees had a three-run Gleyber Torres homer taken off the board in the third inning that led to an Aaron Boone ejection Saturday. Yet at the two-thirds mark of this matinee, this actually was setting up as one of the best days of their 2019 season.
Before the game, Boone had mentioned Gary Sanchez could be back from the injured list Wednesday, beginning a trickle that moved the Yankee manager to say, You start to look forward to get the cavalry back a little bit. The Yankees were clobbering the Royals, ebbing closer to .500 and a sense that they were weathering this early storm of injuries.
And then, with one out in the bottom of the sixth, Aaron Judge lined a single to right and reached instinctively toward pain in his left ribcage. He gingerly ran to first base. In this rinse/repeat cycle that is the 2019 Yankees season, it was one step forward, one step toward the injured list.
Judge had a left oblique injury and was sent for an MRI exam, and Boone conceded after a 9-2 Yankees rout that the slugger will almost certainly go to the injured list. That would be the 14th placement already this season, and Judge would become the 13th man on the IL. And lets face it, he is not just another man. He is The Man.
Masahiro Tanaka called the slugger the heart and soul of our team. Brett Gardner referred to Judge as indispensable. And even in continuing his Tony Robbins all-will-be-fine inspirational tone, Boone said, Look, its Aaron Judge. Hes one of the great players in our game. One of the key figures on our club. Not only between the lines obviously, but what he means to us in the room.
Boone and Brian Cashman and all the Yankees players have expressed the proper resolve that injury means opportunity for others and there will be no alibis and the expectations do not lower. The term next man up has been used an awful lot these past three weeks. But the next men up has essentially turned this into Scranton Wilkes-Barre 2.0.
It is never good to have more plays on the IL than wins. The Yanks top five homer hitters from last season Giancarlo Stanton, Judge, Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks are out. The Yanks injured lineup continues to outdo the healthy version: Sanchez (C), Greg Bird (1B), Troy Tulowitzki (2B), Gregorius (SS), Andujar (3B), Jacoby Ellsbury (LF), Hicks (CF), Judge (RF) and Stanton (DH), with Luis Severino starting and Dellin Betances closing.
A few weeks ago there were wonders about how DJ LeMahieu would get enough at-bats. Now, the Yanks are just wondering who the heck gets the at-bats. Thairo Estrada is the only non-injured position player left on the 40-man roster and they plan to call him up for Sunday’s game. But he is an infielder. The Yanks need outfielders. Veterans such as Jose Bautista, Austin Jackson and Denard Span remain free agents, but it isnt like you can plug and play with currently unemployed players.
Expensive veterans such as Seattles Jay Bruce, Texas Shin-Soo Choo and Kansas Citys Alex Gordon might be gettable even this early. But the Yanks have been hesitant to swell their payroll, particularly if it is just for a temporary salve. Perhaps the Cubs would move Ben Zobrist for a bullpen piece, and if the Yanks got healthy they could use the versatile Zobrist in multiple ways. But this is not generally a time that teams make trades.
Obviously it is going to hurt us, there is no doubt about that, Tanaka said of losing Judge. But the bottom line is for each individual who can play to go out there and do their jobs. Im no different. If we can hold our ground and keep playing good baseball, then once we get our injured list guys back then I feel we can kind of explode and be in a good spot. So just hold our ground for now and just grind it out.
Tanaka, again without his best split, did just that Saturday with seven one-run innings. The Yankee rotation has a 1.95 in its last five-man turn. The bullpen is trending toward its expected dominance. Clint Frazier has seized opportunity, displaying the tools that have been so exciting. Mike Tauchman is hinting at being another small Yankees acquisition who just might produce big, like Luke Voit, who reached base for the 31st straight game and becomes ever more vital now.
I truly feel it will make it sweeter after going through all of this, Boone said. We have a resilient group. We are getting plenty of good news with players making progress working their way back. We will find our way through this. As I told Aaron before he left, this will make it all sweeter when we get to where we want to go.
Perhaps the weakened state of the AL or the Yankees depth and culture of winning will allow them to endure. But they sure are pushing the degree of difficulty in April 2019. They are running out of men to be the next man up.