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Didi Gregorius progressing, James Paxton still has knee pain

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius waits in the on-deck

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius waits in the on-deck circle during a Gulf Coast League game Monday in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There was positive news from Tampa for the Yankees on Friday, but also some news that potentially was not so good.

First, the good news.  Didi Gregorius came through yet another hurdle in his rehab from offseason Tommy John surgery, playing in his fourth extended spring training game. The plan is for the shortstop to officially start a rehab assignment Saturday night with high Class A Tampa, meaning that if there are no setbacks, he could return to the Yankees by mid-June or so.

Aaron Boone said there’s “a good chance” Gregorius won’t need the maximum 20 days allowed for a rehab assignment.

“Since the surgery, it’s kind of gone how we’ve hoped every step of the way,” Boone said before Friday night's game against the Royals was rained out (the teams will play a split doubleheader at 2:15 and 8:15 p.m. Saturday). “This is another indication of that. Looks like it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”

That might not be the case with James Paxton, though.

The lefthander struck out seven and allowed a hit in four innings in the same extended spring training game Gregorius played in, which was supposed to be the final step before Paxton would be activated from the injured list.

However, speaking to The Associated Press afterward, Paxton indicated that the inflammation that landed him on the IL on May 4 might not be out of his left knee yet.  

"I felt it a little bit, but I still was able to make my pitches, which is what I wanted to see," said Paxton, who had a cortisone shot May 4 after going 3-2 with a 3.11 ERA in seven starts. "If I come in tomorrow with more pain than I had walking in today, then we'll have to do something. But, if I come in tomorrow and it feels the same as it did walking in today, then that's just how I'm going to have to pitch for right now."

Boone said the comments weren’t quite as dire as they sounded, but he acknowledged some uncertainty.

“I spoke to him a little while ago,” he said. “Still had a little discomfort in there, but he was still able to execute his pitches. The big thing for Pax is going to be tomorrow. How does he come in, how does he respond to going out there and throwing all of his pitches? If he comes in feeling pretty well, then we start to move forward. If not, we have to adjust.”

With CC Sabathia hitting the injured list on Thursday with right knee inflammation, that makes it three out of five starters on the IL whom the Yankees expected to have in the rotation this season. Luis Severino started the year on the IL with right rotator cuff inflammation, then suffered a right lat strain, and no timetable for his return has been established.

Injuries, and setbacks with the injured, have been nothing new for the Yankees this year, of course. They’ve spent the vast majority of the season with anywhere from 10 to  the current total of 13 players  on the IL, and the team has thrived anyway.

The Yankees entered the weekend on a five-game winning streak and in first place in the AL East. Since starting the season 6-9, they have gone 26-8.

If Paxton isn’t able to return to the rotation the next time through – that outcome seems likely – Boone said the Yankees have the pitching to figure it out.

As they have  much of the season.

“We’ve got nine guys in our bullpen right now, guys that can give us length,” he said. “We’ve got to mix and match and get a little more creative, but we also feel like we’re capable of handling it.”

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