Aaron Hicks had to wait through a baffling back injury, two rainouts and Game 1 of Wednesday’s doubleheader before finally making his 2019 debut in Game 2. The Yankees centerfielder, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, said he was nervous about his own personal Opening Day.
“I was just really excited to play in my first game,” Hicks said after the Yankees swept the Orioles. “I was a little bit nervous. Like an Opening Day at-bat, when you hear the crowd cheering loud, and you don’t really get that in extended [spring training]. I was excited and the moment kind of overwhelmed me. But I was happy just to be out there again.”
Hicks’ odyssey began with a sore lower back on March 1, just days after he signed a seven-year, $70 million contract extension. The Yankees thought he would just miss a spring training game or two. Hicks ended up needing two cortisone shots and was on the injured list for the first 40 games of the season.
After a minor-league rehab assignment, Hicks was activated for Monday’s series opener and was in the lineup in the leadoff spot. The game was set for a rain-delayed 7:45 start. Hicks and the rest of the players started warming up, but an unplayable outfield caused a postponement at about 8:50.
Hicks was back in the lineup in the three-hole for Tuesday’s game. That one was postponed at about 5 p.m.
Take three was Wednesday’s doubleheader opener. But manager Aaron Boone only wanted to play Hicks in one of the games and decided on the nightcap.
“I told him I was saving him for prime time,” Boone said with a chuckle.
Hicks was not amused.
“It was extremely hard [to watch Game 1],” Hicks said. “When I got here, I was expecting to play in the first game and I didn’t. So to watch a game again just kind of [stinks]. I wanted to play the first game. I wanted to get it over with. I wanted to play in the first game that we had and he wanted to save me for the second.”
In his first at-bat, Hicks took a called strike on 3-and-2 from Orioles starter Andrew Cashner. Boone said it was a good take because the Yankees thought the pitch should have been called ball four. The only time Hicks put a ball in play was in the third inning, when he hit a check-swing grounder to short.
“I really wanted to put the ball in play and hit something hard,” said Hicks, who hit .248 with 27 HRs, 79 RBIs and an .833 OPS in 2018. “I didn’t really get too many pitches to do that and I kind of swung out of the zone.”
Said Boone: “Hicksie didn’t get any results, obviously. But a nice first step for him getting back and being part of a win.”
The Yankees open a three-game series with the Rays on Friday night. Hicks’ return and Tuesday’s acquisition of veteran Kendrys Morales from the A’s gives Boone two switch hitters in what has been a righty-heavy lineup. Morales made his Yankees debut in Game 2 and went 1-for-2 with two walks.
Brett Gardner filled in for Hicks in center. He is hitting just .197 with six home runs. All of his homers and 25 of his 28 hits have come against righthanders, against whom Gardner is batting .217. He’s 3-for-27 vs. lefties and should benefit from being a platoon partner with Cameron Maybin in leftfield until Giancarlo Stanton returns from his left shoulder strain and reshuffles the Yankees’ deck again.
Stanton is taking multiple at-bats in extended spring training games, Boone said.