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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees' state of triage seemingly doesn't have an end

Despite manager Aaron Boone's unfailing optimism, the Yankees can't shake this Groundhog Day cycle of medical issues, losing players as quickly as others return.

James Paxton of the Yankees delivers a pitch

James Paxton of the Yankees delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Twins at Yankee Stadium on Friday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

How dangerous is life in pinstripes right now?

It’s a good day when the Yankees only lose a game.

And by that criteria, Saturday’s 7-3 loss to the Twins was a moral victory in at least one aspect. Nobody had to exit the field prematurely, clutching a shoulder or knee.

On this occasion, the body count was adjusted at mid-morning when James Paxton was put on the injured list within hours of Miguel Andujar’s activation. Paxton wasn’t a new affliction. He had been hurt the night before, aggravating a previous knee condition, and Saturday’s paperwork was the expected move.

The official diagnosis was left knee inflammation for Paxton, and he received the customary cortisone shot. As usual, the Yankees are counting on this being a one- or two-start thing, as is Paxton, with Jonathan Loaisiga getting the call from Triple-A Scranton.

By now, we’ve become more skeptical about such flare-ups, and the fact that Paxton said he was feeling pain on every pitch Friday is a detail that stuck in our heads. Maybe the Yankees will get lucky and this will be a relatively minor issue. But that hasn’t really been the script this season, has it?

To think that Andujar barely had a chance to move back into his locker before the Yankees’ No. 2 starter was headed for limbo. Paxton is the 16th player to wind up on the IL, in only 32 games, and Aaron Boone was stuck again Saturday pretending it doesn’t matter. Despite the manager’s unfailing optimism, the Yankees can’t shake this Groundhog Day cycle of medical issues, losing players as quickly as others return.

“I’d say that’s how it’s been so far, but hopefully it turns into getting more back,” Boone said. “And that’s what we believe will happen over time. But as it is right now, guys continue to grind away at it and find a way, and that’s what you need to continue to do. Knowing that, over time, we’re going to continue to get guys back.”

Ideally, that’s what should happen. Players do eventually heal. But there’s also no guarantee that the rest of the squad will stay healthy later down the line. And for whatever reason, the ’19 Yankees tend to take longer to recover than anticipated.

Losing Paxton was a particularly cruel blow, with Luis Severino out indefinitely because of a lat strain that inexplicably followed rotator-cuff inflammation. Brian Cashman already had dipped into his Triple-A reserves for Domingo German, and now Loaisiga will be counted on to replace the reliable Paxton, who had a 1.19 ERA in his previous four starts.

“We have to figure out what’s causing it to happen,” Paxton said of his knee condition, “and then move on from there.”

Not the most encouraging prognosis. And even the silver lining of Saturday’s loss — Andujar’s return to the lineup — was something less than a happy homecoming. Andujar was loudly cheered during the roll call and the intro to his first at-bat, but the welcome went sour after he committed a pair of errors.

In the second inning, Andujar couldn’t handle Eddie Rosario’s sharp grounder. In the seventh, he cut off Nelson Cruz’s bouncer on the run but tried to throw across his body to second base and wound up flinging the ball into rightfield. Andujar did make two other nifty charging plays, with accurate throws to first, but the errors were a reminder of what the Yankees weren’t getting with Gio Urshela at third base.

“That’s just something we’re going to have to continue to grind through,” Boone said.

On the bright side, Andujar’s shoulder made it through the afternoon intact, so the Yankees had to be thrilled with that.

The best-case scenario is that Andujar can survive the season playing with the small labrum tear, and there’s a long way to go. Not that the banged-up Yankees look too far ahead. It feels as if they’ve been in survival mode through these first six weeks.

What else can you call it when Mike Tauchman and Cameron Maybin are starting at the corner outfield spots, as they were again Saturday? Or when Boone meets his newest bullpen addition, Jake Barrett, less than an hour before first pitch?

What the Yankees could have used was a tighter performance by J.A. Happ, who was tagged for a pair of homers and four runs in his 5 2⁄3 innings.

It would have been much worse if Maybin hadn’t reached above the wall to rob Jonathan Schoop of a potential three-run homer in the fourth inning, and Happ later alluded to the Stadium’s dimensions as creating a unique challenge. He signed a two-year, $34 million contract, though, so it’s a little late for that. More is expected from the Yankees still functioning.

“I felt about as good as I’ve felt so far this year,” Happ said.

That puts him in a small minority on these aching Yankees, a team in a perpetual state of triage.

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