LAKELAND, Fla. — Aaron Boone seemed to know what was coming.
Harrison Bader was sent for an MRI Thursday after experiencing discomfort in his left side during an at-bat Wednesday against the Cardinals, and late that afternoon, Boone said: “Any time it’s the side, [it’s a concern],”
His concern proved well-founded. Imaging showed a left oblique strain for Bader, making it a near-certainty that the centerfielder will start the season on the injured list.
“I don’t have a timeframe for you yet because . . . the doctors are all weighing in on it today,” Boone said.
Even a Grade 1 strain — the mildest — typically costs a player in the range of four to six weeks, sometimes longer.
“It’ll be some time,” Boone acknowledged.
He disclosed the situation after Thursday’s Grapefruit League game against the Red Sox, the fourth injury the club was forced to address in less than 12 hours.
General manager Brian Cashman announced before the 11-7 loss to Boston that lefthander Carlos Rodon would start the season on the IL with a “mild forearm strain,” with his anticipated return not until “sometime in April.”
Righty reliever Tommy Kahnle also will start the season on the IL with right biceps tendinitis and righty reliever Lou Trivino will join him there with what Cashman called “a mild elbow ligament strain.”
Kahnle is expected back at some point in April. Trivino's return is not expected until May at the earliest. Unless Bader has one of the quickest-healing oblique injuries in recent memory, a mid-April return would be the most optimistic of timelines.
Meanwhile, Boone said an array of players will play centerfield the rest of camp.
Estevan Florial, a one-time top outfield prospect who started in center Friday against the Tigers and is out of options, is among them. As is lefthanded-hitting Rafael Ortega, who has big-league experience and can play all three outfield spots and whose work at the plate has put himself on the club’s radar. Aaron Hicks, primarily a centerfielder in his major-league career, will get some time there, as will hyped prospect Jasson Dominguez, who has had a terrific camp. But even with the Bader injury, Dominguez has almost no chance to be on the roster heading north at the end of this month. The 20-year-old has all of five games under his belt at the Double-A level, where he finished last season after starting it with Class A Tampa.
When it comes to the regular season, Boone didn’t rule out Aaron Judge, who played 78 games in center last season and played it well. Hicks remains an option and, to a lesser degree, so does rookie Oswaldo Cabrera, who has played one game there in spring training but is among the more versatile players the Yankees have had in years.
Bringing in veteran help, whether through the trade market or discarded players from other camps as cuts are made in the coming weeks, can’t be ruled out.
Speaking Friday morning at Steinbrenner Field, Cashman indicated as much, saying, “If there’s better external candidates for any of these spots, that’s fine too.”
As for feeling covered with the current roster given the Bader news, Cashman said: “We’re going to have to be. How we reconfigure remains to be seen, but in the meantime, still waiting on what we’re dealing with. I know what we’re dealing with, I just don’t know the timeframe.”
With David Lennon in Tampa