TAMPA, Fla. — Clarke Schmidt was relieved.
The 25-year-old righthander, expected to compete for the job of fifth starter in the Yankees’ rotation, recently was shelved after experiencing a strain of his right common extensor tendon. Aaron Boone said the injury would shut him down for three to four weeks.
That the injury, though in the elbow, has nothing to do with Schmidt’s ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), which was repaired by Tommy John surgery in 2017.
"I knew it wasn’t my UCL because I knew it was on the other side of my arm," said Schmidt, the Yankees’ first-round pick (16th overall) in 2017, who made his big-league debut last Sept. 4 against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
Which doesn’t mean the worst didn’t go through his mind when he initially felt discomfort.
Schmidt, who threw with a weighted ball in the offseason and thinks he might have pushed himself a bit too hard, knowing a rotation spot would be on the line in spring training, noticed the issue during a bullpen session about two weeks ago.
"Halfway through the pen, it just didn’t seem right, it wasn’t coming out the same," said Schmidt, who quickly alerted head trainer Tim Lentych. "And then later on that day, it just kind of started stiffening up on me. By the end of the day, it was super-tight, I had no range of motion.
"I didn’t know what it was. As a pitcher, you kind of think worst-case scenario when you’re going through that stuff . . . But thankfully after the MRI, [the doctor] kind of assured [me] and I was very, very thankful it was kind of best-case scenario and a minor situation. I’m going to be able to log a significant amount of innings this year."
Though he doesn’t have a date for when he’ll resume throwing, Schmidt said all indications are it will be sooner rather than later.
"It’s a fluid timeline," he said. "A lot of the things that we said early on, requirements for me to throw, is get that range of motion back, which I have complete range of motion, and be pain-free, and I’m pretty much pain-free right now. They were surprised by how quickly I was responding to, whether it was the meds or just the treatment. I know that I’m feeling really good but I know [I have to be cautious]. I think the three-, four-week timeline is [accurate]."
DJ: 2020 success doesn't mean anything
How does DJ LeMahieu improve on a 2020 season in which he led MLB with a .364 batting average and led the American League in OBP (.421) and OPS (1.011)?
"Every season’s different," he said. "I played well last year, but that doesn’t mean anything going into this year. Obviously, it’s a big confidence thing coming off a good year, but at the same time, I'm not taking anything for granted."
Bringing back LeMahieu, signed to a two-year, $24 million deal before the 2019 season, was the Yankees’ No. 1 offseason priority, but talks dragged throughout the winter. In mid-January, he agreed to a six-year, $90 million deal.
"Two of my most fun years [came] in ’19 and ‘20," he said. "To have the opportunity to do that six more years, it’s exciting. Honored to be a part of this organization for sure. It was a long offseason, but I’m glad it all worked out. I couldn’t be more excited."
King and then . . .
Michael King is slated to start Sunday’s exhibition opener against Toronto at Steinbrenner Field. Boone said RHP Asher Wojciechowski, LHP Lucas Luetge, RHP Kyle Barraclough, RHP Nick Goody, RHP Adam Warren and, possibly, RHP Albert Abreu and LHP Trevor Lane could follow him.
Gerrit Cole is scheduled to start Monday’s exhibition game, also at home, against the Tigers. He’ll be piggybacked by Jameson Taillon.