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Yankees place slumping Gary Sanchez on injured list with left groin strain

Gary Sanchez of the Yankees strikes out during

Gary Sanchez of the Yankees strikes out during the eighth inning against the Rays at Yankee Stadium on July 15. Credit: Jim McIsaac

MINNEAPOLIS — Gary Sanchez felt more discomfort than pain the night before and that, he hoped, might be an indication he could avoid a stint on the injured list.

It was not the case.

An MRI taken on Sanchez Wednesday revealed a Grade 1 strain of his left groin, putting him on the IL for the second time this season.

“In the scale of strains, it’s minor, which is somewhat good news, but still it’s going to be some time,” Aaron Boone said before his team played the third and final game of its series against the Twins. “We’ll just kind of see how these next few days, how the next week unfolds and how he’s healing and when he gets to start back up baseball activities. But I don’t want to put a timeline or anything like that on it in these early days. We’ll see how he responds.”  

Catcher Kyle Higashioka was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a corresponding roster move. In need of bullpen insurance after Tuesday’s wild 14-12 victory in 10 innings over the Twins, the Yankees also optioned Jonathan Holder to Scranton and recalled lefthander Nestor Cortes Jr.

Sanchez, in the midst of the worst slump of his season — 7-for-his-last-68 with 20 strikeouts and just one homer since June 23 — suffered the injury while trying to beat out a double-play that ended the seventh inning Tuesday.

“I felt it after I stepped on the base,” Sanchez said through his translator. “Felt kind of like a cramp. It’s nothing like what I had last year.”

Sanchez spent two stints on the IL— then called the disabled list — in 2018 because of a right groin strain. It was part of an overall lousy season in which Sanchez played only 89 games in which he hit .186/.291/.406 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs.

Sanchez, who has 24 homers, seemed to have put those numbers completely behind him with this season’s first half, one in which he was voted into the AL’s starting lineup for the All-Star Game in Cleveland.

Sanchez’s recent slump brought his season slash line to .229/.299/.508 – he was at .273/.339/.634 as recently as June 23 – and that skid mostly coincides with the June 30 game in London against the Red Sox, when he was forced from the game with a jammed left thumb.

The catcher and the Yankees insisted he was healthy but the questions persisted as the slump continued.

“I’m convinced he’s healthy,” Boone said  on Monday. “I do feel like he’s getting his ‘A’ swing off a lot but when he gets a pitch that when he’s going good he puts in play with authority, he’s fouling that pitch off. And maybe he’s expanding the strike zone a little bit more than usual right now. I’ve talked to him about just focus on having a good at-bat and not chasing a result because you’ll drive yourself crazy if you do that.”

For the foreseeable future, the catching duties, Boone said, will be essentially split between Austin Romine, who started Wednesday night, and Higashioka.

“Probably Higgy tomorrow and then you might see them alternate when we’re in Boston,” Boone said. “We’ll kind of see how it unfolds but I think you’ll see a lot of both.”  

Thar would not be a surprise as the 29-year-old Higashioka, a seventh-round pick in 2008, has a lot of supporters throughout the organization.  

“Higgy is really an elite receiver,” Boone said. “Great hands behind the plate. We feel like, even though with Gary being down is a blow, we feel like in Higgy we have a guy capable of not only filling in but a guy capable of coming up here and thriving and having an impact on us winning games on both sides of the ball.”

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