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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Perfect opportunity for Yankees' Clint Frazier to prove he belongs

Stanton's injury opens up playing time Frazier wouldn't have gotten. He made the most of his start Tuesday night by driving in the Yankees' only run with a sacrifice fly.  

Clint Frazier of the Yankees flies out in

Clint Frazier of the Yankees flies out in the seventh inning against the Tigers on at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Simply put, it’s Clint Frazier’s turn. The Yankees have leaned on just about everyone else in their farm system, a steady parade of twenty-something prospects that turned this Bronx rebuild into the fastest in franchise history.

Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge. The dynamic rookie duo of Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar last season. Each time, somebody has stepped up to prove himself, at a turning point for the team. All the talked-about potential matured into desperately needed performance.

Now the Yankees need Frazier, so here he is again, summoned Sunday night from Scranton -- toting his two cats -- to take the place of Giancarlo Stanton, who is on the IL with a strained biceps and no exact timetable for his return. This is an open-ended invitation for Frazier, and an opportune moment for him to start delivering on all the promise that comes with being a No. 5 draft pick, as well as a coveted part of the four-player package the Yankees got from the Indians for Andrew Miller during the 2016 fire sale.

Maybe we’ll look back and count Tuesday night as the first step in Frazier’s Bronx rebirth, an incremental nudge forward. The Yankees didn’t play him when he arrived a day earlier, and Aaron Boone inserted him at DH -- Mike Tauchman started in leftfield -- for what turned into a demoralizing 3-1 loss to the Tigers.

Frazier didn’t wait long to make an impression, driving in the Yankees’ lone run. His sacrifice fly put them ahead in the second inning, thanks to a tenacious at-bat against Jordan Zimmermann. Frazier got up quickly with a 3-and-0 count, then looked at a fastball before waving at a nasty curve. Zimmermann tried the curve again, but Frazier got enough of it to lift a fly ball to left.

It was just the type of contribution Frazier needed to settle down, to get acclimated to the big-league experience again. He has 54 games on his resume, pieces of the past two seasons, and he’s only 24 -- younger than everyone but Torres (22). He also is coming off a disappointing Grapefruit League stint, batting .143 (7-for-49) with 16 strikeouts and zero homers.

Was it possible that Frazier put too much pressure on himself in thinking he could challenge the incumbent Brett Gardner for the leftfield job? Finally, he was clear of the post-concussion symptoms that sabotaged his development last season, so maybe Frazier’s hurdles this spring were more psychological in nature, and self-inflicted.

“He’s still a very young player, and coming off missing some significant time,” Boone said before Tuesday’s game. “I think there was an element of him wanting to speed up the clock and really go out and perform more so than get ready for the season.

“The good thing is, he’s really talented. I feel like he’s in a good place as he joins us, and excited for him to get a real opportunity right now.”

Consider this an audition as well. General manager Brian Cashman used the other marquee name from the Miller deal -- Justus Sheffield -- to snag James Paxton from the Mariners in November, and Frazier seemed postmarked for a similar fate when the Yankees traded for Stanton the previous winter. Instead, Frazier spent most of last season struggling with the nightmarish fallout from a collision with a wall in Bradenton -- in only his second Grapefruit League game -- and trying to get his career back on track.

This is now the primo chance for that, and Frazier believes he’s more ready for it than those official Grapefruit stats indicate. Once the Yankees headed north for Opening Day, Frazier said he found his groove again playing in the minor-league games down in Tampa, and maybe being out of the spotlight for a few days helped him relax a bit.

“I felt like I was thinking more mechanical than I probably should have in the box,” Frazier said. “Once spring finished [for the Yankees], I went over to the bushes and kept a clear mind and played as much baseball as I could -- not play mind games with myself.”

Whatever it takes, because the Yankees are running out of options. After Torres in the cleanup spot, they deployed - in order -- D.J. LeMahieu, Tauchman, Frazier, Tyler Wade and Austin Romine. It was a lineup more fitting for Lakeland or Sarasota.

“They’re all good players, in their own right,” Boone said.

Frazier, not long ago, was billed as a someday great player. Now would be the perfect time for that player to show up.

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