David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
It was bad enough when the Yankees were only losing games. Once a team starts losing players, however, a worrisome situation can become a more crippling concern.
In the span of four days this week, the Yankees placed both Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia on the disabled list, then ushered Jacoby Ellsbury to the trainer’s room with a “tight right hip” in the first inning of Friday night’s drama-filled 3-2 win over the Red Sox.
Any chance the Yankees had at contending this season was tied to their roster staying healthy. The thinking was that this group, despite its advanced age, could still perform up to the resumes, at least for another year. And without much insurance at Triple-A Scranton — or the willingness to add more payroll — the Yankees would be operating minus a safety net.StoryMiller pitches out of jam as Yanks win thrillerStoryYankees place CC Sabathia on DLStoryChapman, eligible to return Monday, ready to go
Well, now they have a few big holes to fill with Sabathia on the DL with a groin injury that Joe Girardi estimated could keep him sidelined for three weeks. The prognosis for Rod riguez’s hamstring strain, apparently a mild case, is maybe a little more than two weeks, according to Girardi.
“That’s my hope,” Girardi said. “We’ll have to see how he heals.”
As for Ellsbury, that’s anyone’s guess, but history suggests to bet the over. He’s been a frequent visitor to the DL during his 10-year career and was limited to 111 games last season, mostly because of a sprained right knee and hip inflammation. Though Ellsbury is hardly on pace to live up to his seven-year, $153-million contract, he was warming up lately, batting .302 (16-for-53) with five doubles and a home run in his previous 14 games.
On Friday, Ellsbury drew a walk in his first at-bat, then stole two bases — bringing his total to nine for the season — before scoring on Brian McCann’s double. Ellsbury is one of the precious few Yankees running threats, and for a player who depends on speed, a hip injury is an ominous sign.
The Yankees already summoned outfielder Ben Gamel from Scranton earlier in the week, and now might need another. Aaron Hicks is the replacement for Ellsbury in centerfield, with Brett Gardner staying in left. But would Brian Cashman take a chance on Aaron Judge for a shot at the everyday rightfielder’s job and install Carlos Beltran as the sub DH?
Though the Yankees may feel it’s still too early for Judge’s development, at some point they need to let the 24-year-old test himself in the majors. In his last eight games, Judge is batting .333 (10-for-30) with three doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs. Bringing him up doesn’t have to be permanent, obviously. And flipping him back to Scranton if he struggles won’t do any irreparable damage.
For Sabathia, the Yankees will simply move Ivan Nova from the bullpen, but the timing is terrible. Sabathia was coming off Wednesday’s great performance, when he pitched seven scoreless innings against the Orioles at cozy Camden Yards, and Friday’s announcement came as a shock. Girardi felt Sabathia had his best changeup in years that night, and the Yankees — a team starving for length from the starting pitchers — now must turn to Nova on a 75-pitch leash in CC’s place.
“It happens and you have to deal with it,” Girardi said before Friday’s game. “There’s really not a whole lot that you can do about it. People have to step up.”
If Ellsbury joins A-Rod and Sabathia on the DL, that’s $67-million worth of players, representing 30 percent of this year’s payroll. Sure, the Yankees were 9-17 with those three — their worst start since 1991 — but they probably won’t be a better team in their absence.
Not this year, anyway.