How much of a factor is Luke Voit’s sports hernia, an injury that will need offseason surgery to fix? The Yankees’ first baseman says zero.
But the time Voit missed — two injured list stints that cost him a total of 36 games — continues to have a lingering impact as he works his way back, and there’s no telling if that will affect the remainder of this month and his status for October.
The emergence of Gio Urshela, who returned from the IL on Sunday, has created a scenario in which the Yankees’ optimal playoff lineup likely includes Urshela at third base and DJ LeMahieu at first, with Voit and Edwin Encarnacion in DH roles. But those decisions have not been made, and Voit has earned the respect from the muscle he has flexed for the Yankees.
“After the September I had last year, I want to try to finish strong like I did last year,” said Voit, who hit 10 homers in his final 24 games and had a 1.150 OPS last season. “Even though it was a really good year, I just know I can do it again. So obviously I want to try to do something like I did last year, especially going into the playoffs. You want to get hot for that.”
Coming from the indoor batting cages, wearing a gray camouflage tank top, Voit looked like the same indestructible folk hero before going 1-for-4 in the Yankees’ 10-5 victory over the Red Sox in Sunday night’s game at Fenway Park. But he’s still in the process of getting to that level again, and Voit is confident that it will happen in these next few weeks leading up to the playoffs.
“Obviously, this game is hard enough, and sometimes I try to make it that much harder on myself, because you want to get back and I want to help the team,” Voit said. “It’s just believing in it and just making sure I’m doing all the stuff that I need to do right in the box and mentally prepare myself for the game.”
Voit did two of those things Saturday in the Yankees’ 5-1 win over the Red Sox. The first was a nifty defensive stretch-and-scoop of Didi Gregorius’ one-hop bouncer in the sixth inning. The other was a rocket double that soared over Mookie Betts’ head in centerfield in the eighth.
In some ways, the glovework was more impressive. And when I asked Voit if plays like that have him reaching for his midsection, checking to see if everything stayed in the correct place, he laughed.
“Right, like my intestines are going to fall out,” he said, smiling. “Or something like that.”
No worries. Voit isn’t going to leave any internal organs on the infield dirt. The sports hernia needs to be repaired this winter, but it’s not quite that hazardous. Voit believes he’s got the injury under control, thanks to his meticulous core-strength routine and daily treatment.
His numbers have some catching up to do, though. Saturday’s double was only Voit’s second extra-base hit (in 23 at-bats) since his Aug. 30 return from the IL, and he hasn’t homered since July 22.
Voit describes the sports hernia as “a hurdle” he had to get over mentally, and now he’s building on positive at-bats in the hope that the home runs will soon follow.
“I just feel like I’ve been missing pitches,” he said. “I’ve been popping up a lot. And rolling over on off-speed [pitches]. So it’s kind of just my timing part. If I get my timing back I’ll be hitting doubles and home runs, so it was nice to finally hit an elevated fastball [Saturday] and I squared it up good.”
Voit appears physically to be the same Superman who hammered 19 home runs in only 39 games last season — a span of 148 plate appearances — but managing the hernia has taken a toll. Aaron Boone recently slid him down to eighth in the lineup, but that hasn’t diminished his faith in one of the Yankees’ most intimidating sluggers — when he is at maximum strength. Boone remains optimistic that the Yankees will be seeing that before too long.
“What I think of with Luke is the at-bat quality, and once he gets there, everything else falls into place,” Boone said. “Whether it’s the walks, the hits, the power. First thing is obviously getting back from this physically being sound, which I feel like he’s in a good spot. Now it’s just building that momentum.”
Once that happens, as Voit has shown, he can be about as tough to stop as a steamroller.