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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Struggling Yankees need to get back on course with unexpected roster

The rash of early-season injuries forced Aaron Boone to use a lineup of mostly bench players Tuesday.

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman reacts on the mound

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman reacts on the mound during the ninth inning against the Tigers at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Aroldis Chapman, for one, says he feels good. But after the closer was personally responsible for Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Tigers, by getting teed up for two runs in the ninth inning, how can that be considered a positive?

If feeling good means throwing a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s, rather than his expected triple-digits, maybe that’s just as concerning as the nine Yankees currently on the injured list, a weight that’s dragged them down to a 2-3 start in a season that’s quickly going sideways.

With this team, it’s a victory if all 25 active players are still upright by game’s end, and the Yankees barely escaped in one piece Tuesday. Luke Voit was the latest to spend a few minutes in the X-ray machine after he was drilled on the side of the left hand by Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez during the eighth inning.

Like Chapman, Voit insisted he was fine -- after the X-rays came back negative -- but his temper was still simmering at his locker. Apparently, Voit believes he’s being targeted by up-and-in fastballs, and he’s pretty angry about it. He could be seen yelling at Jimenez at the end of the eighth, mostly because he felt the pitcher showed him up jogging over to double him up on a line drive comebacker to the mound. The pain in his throbbing hand was nothing compared to the anger.

“I’m just [ticked] off,” Voit said afterward.

At least someone is inside the Yankees’ clubhouse, a place where everyone seems content to wait for this $225-million ship to correct its course -- but not do anything to prevent it from sinking. Well, everyone but Masahiro Tanaka, who allowed just one run over 6 2/3 innings yet wound up with a no-decision in the loss.

Aaron Boone’s solution Tuesday was to deploy a lineup more fitting for a split-squad game in Lakeland or Sarasota, while keeping Troy Tulowitzki, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez on the bench. Truthfully, that’s not all on Boone -- as we know, lineups are a collaborative effort with the front office in today’s baseball -- but the Yankees were asking a bit much out of a batting order that was all bench players after Gleyber Torres in the cleanup spot.

Sure, D.J. LeMahieu counts as more of a regular now, as Miguel Andujar is sidelined indefinitely with a small labrum tear in his right shoulder. But the rest? Mike Tauchman? Tyler Wade? Austin Romine? Clint Frazier stands out among that crowd, and he was put in the designated hitter spot after just getting here Monday -- as the replacement for Giancarlo Stanton, felled by a strained biceps.

It’s Frazier’s turn to come through now, after the Yankees have leaned on the rest of their 20-somethings to fuel the rapid rebuild of the past few years. And he did Tuesday, as Frazier’s sacrifice fly off Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann was the team’s lone run. Frazier stayed patient to work a 3-and-0 count, then punched a full-count curve ball to leftfield to get the run in.

So both Tanaka and Frazier get gold stars, along with Adam Ottavio, who provided four outs of scoreless relief, including three Ks. That trio did their jobs, or at least more than their colleagues. In this weakened lineup, it’s only natural for Aaron Judge to be shouldering more of the pressure, and he again was kept in the ballpark Tuesday night (1-for-3, single, 2 Ks).

“It’s all about 25 guys pulling on the same rope,” Judge said.

But these aren’t the 25 guys anyone imagined would be playing in the Bronx through the first five games of the season. That’s a big part of the problem. And then there are others, like Chapman, who don’t resemble the players we expected to show up. Chapman’s decreased velocity has been a disturbing sub-plot, and he was done in Tuesday by Dustin Peterson, who turned on a first-pitch, 95-mph fastball to deliver the tie-breaking RBI double in the ninth.

It was Peterson’s third game in the majors, and the first hit of his career. Jordy Mercer, the Tigers’ No. 9 hitter, later added some insurance off Chapman with a run-scoring single to center. Mercer jumped on a 98-mph fastball, and Chapman averaged 97 on the night.

“Velocity is not really the answer,” Chapman said. “I think the velocity that I have is good enough to get the job done.”

Not Tuesday. And there’s tougher challenges than the Tigers ahead.

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