The Yankees have well over 100 home runs sitting on the injured list. That group is populated with All-Stars, a rookie of the year and an MVP. It’s got an ace – Luis Severino – and both an infield and an outfield. And frankly, the All-Injured Yankees team would probably do pretty well on the field – if they were healthy, that is.
So it’s a little funny that, day after day, week after week, Aaron Boone is presented with a growingly urgent question: Will DJ LeMahieu lose playing time when, say, Didi Gregorius comes back? And certainly, the Yankees could ill afford to sit . . . um . . . Gio Urshela.
The Yankees improbably find themselves in first place at 38-20 after taking two of three games from the Red Sox this past weekend thanks to a cast of supporting characters who have flourished in the limelight. It seems impossible, really, that a team that lost Giancarlo Stanton (38 homers last season), Aaron Judge (27), and Miguel Andujar (27) already has 93 home runs this year, among the top in baseball. But that’s exactly what’s happened, and it’s epitomized the “next man up” philosophy that Boone preached time and time again. At one point, the Yankees had 17 players on the injured list – they now have 13 – and yet, “it’s been fun,” Boone said during an April road trip.
“It’s been a lot of fun to see people, young players from within our organization or [when] we’ve gone outside the organization and brought somebody in, to see them come in and contribute and perform and do their job really well to allow us to continue to win games,” he said. “That’s been very rewarding.”
The mix-and-match lineups have brought the best out of guys such as LeMahieu, a two-time All-Star who was signed to be a multi-position player but found himself inheriting second base and thriving thanks to Troy Tulowitzki’s injury. LeMahieu is hitting .311 with six home runs and 34 RBIs and is batting an incredible .468 (22-for-47) with runners in scoring position. Clint Frazier – defensive miscues in rightfield notwithstanding – has provided pop to a lineup without most of its big bats, hitting 10 home runs in 41 games and proving his worth after a concussion-shortened season last year. Cameron Maybin – an outfield insurance policy that the Yankees got from the Indians for cash considerations – has proved a capable fill-in in 29 games. And then there’s Domingo German and Urshela, both of whom have considerably upped their value with the chances they’ve been given.
"I know everyone keeps saying we’ve embraced the whole ‘next man up’ thing and that’s true," Frazier said last month after he returned from the IL with an ankle injury. "Like I said, it’s a testimony to everyone that brought us in here, and it’s obviously a testimony to ourselves to continue to push through it . . . We’ve had guys make the most of those opportunities and it’s been really fun to watch. "
Urshela is hitting .329 with three homers and 23 RBIs, while German has made good on his potential, leading the majors in wins (9-1), with a 3.66 ERA in 11 starts.
“For the better part of almost three months now, it’s been good at-bats every single day,” Boone said of Urshela. “Obviously, he’s had a hand in us winning a lot of games, had a really high-end, two-strike, two-out at-bats against tough pitchers. He’s hit the ball with authority even if he hasn’t had a lot of home runs. He’s driven the ball. He's hit the ball hard consistently. . .I think in a lot of ways, he’s coming into his own in a big way offensively right now.”
So, really, what will he do when all these injured players return? Well, it sounds like Boone plans to dance with the players who brought him to first place, while also giving the guys who come back a chance to play catch-up.
In the case of Gregorius, for instance, he might start off playing two out of every three games, or four out of every six.
The plan is to give players a day off “once every five, six, seven, eight games and keep everyone fresh and playing,” Boone said. “I honestly don’t think it’s going to be a much of an issue and that’s still ahead of us, trying to keep everyone engaged . . .It’s easy to kind of envision them all playing basically all the time with a day off here and there.”
The best of both worlds for the best team in the American League East.