BOSTON — DJ LeMahieu, the Yankees’ indisputable MVP to this point, soon could be adding two less desirable letters to his resume: IL, as in the 10-day injured list.
After the Yankees got clobbered in their first two games at Fenway Park, with the rotation in a week-long tailspin, the news that LeMahieu is dealing with a groin issue serious enough to keep him out of the lineup — and require an MRI — was the last thing they could afford. Then it got worse, with a 9-5 loss to the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon.
After the game, Aaron Boone said the MRI revealed a “small, acute, pretty low-grade strain,” but the Yankees were holding off on the IL at the moment. As for LeMahieu, he spoke optimistically about the injury, describing it as “real small.” Still, the fact that it’s even there suggests the Yankees could easily change their minds, as they did with Brett Gardner earlier in the week.
When LeMahieu was asked if he could have played Saturday, he hedged on the answer. “Yeah, I could have,” he said. “But it probably wouldn’t have been the smartest thing to do, either.”
The plan is for LeMahieu to go through some tests before Sunday night’s series finale at Fenway Park, but Boone said he doesn’t intend to use him in the starting lineup, if at all. That’s another indication that LeMahieu probably will need more of an extended break, even though the team wasn’t ready to make that commitment Saturday night.
The Yankees just placed Gardner on the 10-day IL on Thursday with left knee inflammation, the day after doing the same with Gary Sanchez, who has a left groin strain. Those two raised the Yankees’ total to 23 players (in 26 stints) put on the IL this year, as compared to a total of 20 (in 23 stints) all of last season.
Considering LeMahieu’s everyday importance, both as the club’s leadoff hitter and a three-time Gold Glover often used at three infield spots, expect the Yankees to be conservative. An IL stint still seems possible, just to be cautious.
LeMahieu said he felt it during his second at-bat Friday, but he was not removed from the game. He played third base in Friday night’s 10-5 loss and went 1-for-4, including a first-inning single that later resulted in his being thrown out attempting to steal second. He entered Saturday atop the American League with a .332 batting average (third overall in the majors) and also is hitting .425 with runners in scoring position, which leads the sport.
Signing LeMahieu to a two-year, $24 million deal already is shaping up to be one of Brian Cashman’s most brilliant moves to date, but his influence on this year’s World Series contender goes beyond the numbers.
Before this Fenway series began, Red Sox manager Alex Cora referred to LeMahieu as perhaps the most impressive thing about these Yankees, based on the impact he’s had on the rest of the lineup.
“I think their offensive approach kind of like changed,” Cora said. “I’ve been saying all along that DJ kind of changed the mindset. This guy goes the other way, he’s grinding out at-bats and he’s doing an outstanding job with men in scoring position, putting the ball in play.
“When you look at the last two World Series champions, they did an outstanding job putting the ball in play with men in scoring position, not striking out in certain situations. And [the Yankees] are a little bit different now. You have big guys going the other way, going against the shift. That’s kind of like where they’re at. The bullpen everybody talks about, their pitching. But I think offensively, there’s a difference.”
LeMahieu has been that crucial to the Yankees’ success this season, and it's why his absence, regardless of the length, could be damaging at such a trying time for the team.