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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Giancarlo Stanton off to a smashing start at camp; now, can he stay on the field this season?

Giancarlo Stanton hits a double during Yankees' exhibition

Giancarlo Stanton hits a double during Yankees' exhibition game against the Phillies on Sunday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla.

Spring training is the season for hyperbole. No one is denying that (see Sanchez, Gary). But words are one thing. Data is another. And when gauging the status of Giancarlo Stanton this early in March, the numbers don’t lie.

In Sunday’s game, Stanton’s two doubles — or "missiles," as DJ LeMahieu referred to them — lit up the radar gun at 109.8 and 109.4 mph. LeMahieu doesn’t get overly excited during interviews, especially the Zoom variety. But what Stanton does at the plate, generating such ridiculous power with apparent ease, can coax superlatives from the most low-key observer.

"That’s Big G for you right there," LeMahieu said.

As for the meaning behind those triple-digit scores, it’s basically G being G. Stanton has registered MLB’s highest exit velocity every season since the statistic first became a thing in 2015 (the league average is around 89 mph). His personal best was 122.2 mph in 2017, also the year he was named National League MVP with 59 home runs, 132 RBIs and a 1.007 OPS.

The other key stat for that season? Stanton’s 159 games played. He can’t do damage from the injured list, but as long as he’s standing upright and in the lineup, he has the ability to produce the spectacular on a nightly basis.

"Giancarlo is healthy, and that’s the bottom line for him now,’’ manager Aaron Boone said.

Stanton was fully functional last October and nearly unstoppable, smacking six home runs in 26 at-bats against Cleveland and the Rays. That’s the Stanton the Yankees fantasized about when they made the December 2017 trade with the Marlins, agreeing to pick up more than $260 million of a contract that runs through 2027.

The reality? Those glimpses of Stanton have been few and far between, primarily because of injuries that limited him to 18 games in 2019 (three homers, .894 OPS) and 23 games (out of 60) in last year’s pandemic-shortened regular season (four homers, .887 OPS).

Based on Stanton’s massive share of the Yankees’ payroll, the only way he can make that swap worthwhile is to help them win title No. 28 at some point (29 and 30 wouldn’t hurt, either). But if Stanton can stay on the field anywhere near as much as he did during his first season in pinstripes (158 games, 38 homers, 100 RBIs), the assault on opposing pitchers should continue.

"The idea is to be out there battling with the team as much as possible to change that narrative," he said earlier in spring training. "As well as to just go out and do what I can and what I need to do to stay out there and not keep it as a thought all the time.’’

The Yankees already have floated the idea of using him some in the outfield, although it would seem safer to protect him in the DH spot. Boone certainly will pump the brakes with him down here in the Grapefruit League, and the way his swing already looks, it’s just a matter of having him see pitches, then packing him in bubble wrap for the trip north.

"Stanton’s been barreling up the ball," Aaron Judge said. "Kind of looks just like his playoff form that he was last year. He’s looking great."

Stanton pummeled Phillies starter Zack Wheeler for the first-inning double, a screaming line drive down the leftfield line. In the fifth, his second double was off former Yankee Ivan Nova, and it came off his bat like a 3-iron smash into the teeth of a sturdy wind. The shot fooled Phillies centerfielder Roman Quinn, who was cheating in and no doubt was surprised to see someone get a ball like that over his head, given the blustery conditions.

That’s all Stanton has to keep doing in spring training: Keep raking with an easy swing and be careful on the basepaths. In late February last year, he suffered a Grade 1 calf strain during routine defensive drills with the outfielders and was going to be sidelined for Opening Day before the start of the season was postponed because of COVID-19.

When play finally resumed, Stanton wound up on the injured list again shortly after the restart with a left hamstring strain.

It’s been a disturbing cycle, and one that doesn’t seem to fit with a 6-6, 245-pound player who — at least for appearance’s sake — looks indestructible.

"I don’t know if he can grow any more in physical stature because the guy’s an absolute beast," said former Marlins outfielder Derek Dietrich, who signed with the Yankees last month. "We developed a special bond down in Miami because we both like to take care of ourselves physically and put in work. G works harder than almost anyone I’ve ever played with. He’s always taking extra reps in the cages and doing extra conditioning. It’s definitely a blessing to be back on the same field with him."

Back on the field is good.

In Stanton’s case, staying there is better.

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