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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees have to get (and keep) their guys healthy

Manager Aaron Boone of the Yankees looks on

Manager Aaron Boone of the Yankees looks on from the dugout before a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, Sep. 19, 2019. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

You know it’s an especially great afternoon for these alarmingly fragile Yankees when Aaron Boone is the only one removed from the game, as was the case in Saturday’s 7-2 victory over the Blue Jays.

Don’t worry. Boone is fine physically. It was the manager’s mouth that got him in trouble with irascible crew chief Joe West, who tossed Boone for yapping about the strike zone (again) in the first inning.

Everyone else appeared to make it through all nine innings unscathed — a rarity for the 2019 Yankees, who in this final week should take the field wearing surgical masks and pinstriped Kevlar.

For people with a vested interest in the AL East champs, from the nervous fans to the front office, any time a Yankee winds up sprawled in the dirt or flat on the grass is another opportunity to fear the worst.

When Boone announced Saturday morning that Gleyber Torres was headed for the MRI tube to check on his right hamstring — he was taken out for leg “weakness” the previous night — that familiar panic crept in again.

Really? Torres?

But before mass hysteria ensued, the team announced only a few hours later that his MRI was negative, meaning the hamstring in question was clear of any issues.

“It was a scary moment,” Torres said of Friday’s momentary collapse in shallow centerfield, when he lost his footing and went down awkwardly. “But I woke up feeling really well.”

The Yankees sent him for an MRI anyway. Better safe than sorry, and this season, there’s no such thing as a minor injury in the Bronx.

For once, the Yankees got lucky, and they shouldn’t be in a rush to put him back in the lineup.

Skip Sunday. Keeping him off the artificial turf at the Trop this week wouldn’t be such a bad idea, either. Let him tune up for the playoffs with two games in Texas. That’s plenty.

“Just be smart,” Torres said. “I think that’s the most important thing for me and the team.”

The Yankees need to listen to the kid. Forget going all-out to chase the Astros for home-field advantage. The primary goal now is to make it to the finish line with everyone healthy — or as close to 100 percent as possible.

While that’s easy in theory, it can be more difficult to practice. The Yankees would like to maintain some winning momentum in this last week, if not stay on the Astros’ heels in case they slip up.

But Torres needs to be carefully guarded now after this hint of hamstring trouble, and he’s not the only Yankee who requires some extra vigilance. Giancarlo Stanton is another name at the top of that list, and though the team has been careful, it’s a delicate line to walk because he requires as many at-bats and outfield reps as possible before the Division Series starts on Oct. 4.

Stanton made his second start in leftfield Saturday and played only seven innings, in accordance with the Yankees’ build-up plan. He made the most of his time, ripping an RBI double (105.2 mph exit velocity) in the fourth inning and a solo home run (111.5 mph) in the sixth. It was his first homer since June 24, so the Yankees must have been relieved to see the rehabbed knee hasn’t affected his power stroke.

“I had to re-learn how to jog around the bases a little bit,” Stanton said, smiling.

On a more serious note, he stressed the importance of playing a full nine innings in left for a couple of games. And it’s not as if he’s out of the woods, either. He may look indestructible, but he’s wary of a balky knee that cost him nearly three months this season. “I’ll have to do maintenance for the rest of the year,” he said.

Just because the Yankees have won 101 games mostly without Stanton doesn’t mean he isn’t essential now. With the beginning of the postseason just over a week away, their outfield is frighteningly thin.

Aaron Judge has been limited to DH duties the past two games after Wednesday’s diving attempt caused him to land hard on his right shoulder.  “Keep him from throwing for a couple days,” Boone explained.

The manager’s admission shows that Judge is dealing with something, so they’ll be careful with him going forward.

And while we’re on the subject, maybe give 36-year-old Brett Gardner a breather or two down the stretch? Gardner has played the third-most games (135) on the Yankees. Saturday was No. 43 out of the last 48, including starting a day game after a night game.

Remarkably, Gardner’s performance hasn’t suffered in the least. Before Saturday, he had hit 11 homers with a .935 on-base percentage since Aug. 2, so he’s shown no signs of fatigue. But Gardner also is the only real centerfielder on the roster, which makes him critically important to the Yankees’ title hopes. Preserving him has to be a priority. Keeping their fingers crossed wouldn’t hurt, either.

“He’s one of the reasons we’re here,” Boone said.

Now the Yankees have to do everything in their power to make sure Gardner and the others are fully intact for Oct. 4. As Torres said, be smart.

  

  

  

  

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