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Aaron Hicks expected to return to Yankees' lineup on Monday

Aaron Hicks of the Yankees looks on from

Aaron Hicks of the Yankees looks on from the dugout during a game against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Aaron Hicks left the Yankees’ training facility in Tampa and joined the injury-riddled team Thursday in the Bronx, but that unexpected travel switch actually put the kibosh on his activation for this weekend’s road series against the first-place Rays.

Hicks instead will play three more minor-league games beginning Friday with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, with the expectation of finally making his season debut Monday against Baltimore at the Stadium.

“That’s the plan, play a couple more games, just getting my swing going,” Hicks said after taking batting practice before Thursday’s game against Seattle. “I’ve felt great. But for me, it’s something where I can get more swings. I felt like I needed to get more swings to get going, and that’s where we’re at right now.”

Hicks signed a seven-year contract extension worth $70 million on Feb. 25, but he’s been sidelined since suffering a lower back strain four days later. The switch-hitting centerfielder finally played three rehab games this week for Class A Tampa, but he went hitless in 11 at-bats with one walk and three strikeouts.

“The swing feels good, just barely missing pitches, but now I get to go to Scranton,” Hicks said. “It’s awesome. I’ve spent way too much time in Tampa. I’m definitely tired of Tampa now, so it feels good to be out of there and headed in the right direction toward joining the team again.”

Hicks emerged as a centerpiece to the Yankees’ lineup in 2018, posting career highs with 27 home runs, 79 RBIs, 90 walks and 90 runs in 137 games.

Brett Gardner has started 33 of 37 games in center in Hicks’ absence, with Mike Tauchman starting the remaining four. The Yankees had a 21-15 record entering Thursday’s series finale against Seattle, despite the injury absences of more than a dozen players, also including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Luis Severino and Dellin Betances.

“[Our depth has] definitely been tested. But the guys have been doing great,” Hicks said. “They’ve been playing great ball. A little different than the way we normally play, but it’s been exciting to watch them play. You see a lot more bunting and moving guys over, but it’s been cool to watch.”

Hicks, who received two cortisone shots in mid-March, said he never expected to still be sidelined six weeks into the regular season.

“No, I didn’t think it was going to be something that would linger that long and just wouldn’t go away. It was just one of those random things,” said Hicks, who added he’s mostly been symptom-free since three days after his second shot on March 17. “I felt like the process was right on point.

“I tried to force them to speed me up, but overall the process was successful and got me to the point right now where I feel good. Now it’s all about just getting reps and getting ready to join the team.”

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