The Yankees were supposed to introduce Fenway Park to the Martian this week, giving Jasson Dominguez his first taste of the ancient rivalry while showing the Red Sox their newest weapon.
Instead, Dominguez potentially is headed for Tommy John surgery. The psychological whiplash is difficult to fully comprehend for these Yankees, who have excelled at only two things this season: stacking the injured list and self-sabotage.
Dominguez, 20, should be fine eventually. Going in for a UCL repair is not quite as routine as a root canal, but the timetable for position players keeps shrinking, with Bryce Harper returning to the Phillies’ lineup at DH this season a record 160 days after his own procedure. That’s slightly more than five months, and nearly half the typical prognosis of nine to 10 months.
The real concern here is for the Yankees, who went from having their 21st century Mickey Mantle ready to go for next year’s Opening Day to looking for another centerfielder, or at least a placeholder until June.
We’ll just assume that the Yankees are serious about making a run at the AL East title in 2024 — something they were not for most of this year. It’s a small sample size, but Dominguez quickly became the antidote for the aging, slow, feeble vibe that had swallowed this franchise. Suddenly, the Yankees had a switch hitter with power to stick in the No. 3 spot, a run-producer to help protect Aaron Judge.
Rarely have the Yankees’ fortunes hinged on someone who wasn’t in Triple-A long enough to do his laundry and who had only eight major-league games under his belt. But Dominguez earned the Martian nickname because of his out-of-this-world talent, and watching the way he rapidly checked boxes at this level made it easy for the Yankees to pencil him into their imagined 2024 lineup.
Dominguez hit a pair of homers during his debut weekend at Minute Maid Park, helping the Yankees sweep the defending champs in their own building for the first time since 2013, and once he got to the Bronx, he kept hitting. Two more home runs gave him four in his first seven games, making him the youngest player since 1901 to do so.
Dominguez managed to put on that show at Yankee Stadium with the damaged UCL, which makes you wonder what he’s capable of with a fully functional right arm. He kept playing through the discomfort — he’s unsure of the exact moment when the injury occurred — until it no longer was possible.
The impact on this season is negligible. The Yankees remain mathematically alive, the odds down to a sliver of a percentage point, but the Martian’s presence fueled the illusion of a long-shot wild-card run. They had won five straight since his call-up, trimming the wild-card deficit to 6 1⁄2 games with 24 to play, and that didn’t seem like a coincidence.
Losing three of the next four, however, exposed the Yankees’ brief resurgence to be nothing more than a mirage, making September an extended audition for 2024 job-seekers.
Dominguez was acing his tryout, and this month figured to be a running start for spring training next February. Now the focus is going to be on his rehab, and the Yankees aren’t looking for him to break any records like Harper’s effort to hustle back. With their lengthy list of medical mishaps, they should be methodical with Dominguez.
“It’s about taking care of it now,” Aaron Boone said after Sunday’s game. “It’s sports. Unfortunately, you have tough things that happen all the time. This is something that he should completely recover and bounce back from. But in the moment, you’re crushed for the kid.”
And privately, the Yankees couldn’t help but feel sorry for themselves. Another sad trombone for this gut-punch of a season. Dominguez’s rapid adjustment to the majors was giving them one fewer thing to worry about for 2024. General manager Brian Cashman, who was in Japan this past week scouting Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, already has a growing to-do list for this winter. Now he’ll be monitoring Dominguez’s rehab progress rather than crossing an outfield spot off that agenda.
Dominguez will be back, doing Martian things again. But for the Yankees, a team hurrying to change the current narrative, more patience is something they were hoping to avoid.