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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

After passing on marquee free agents, Yankees making patchwork lineup work amid setbacks

Gio Urshela of the Yankees follows through on

Gio Urshela of the Yankees follows through on a third-inning double against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Turns out, the Yankees got their Manny Machado after all. Only he didn’t cost them $300 million. Brian Cashman found his Gold Glove-caliber third baseman, complete with a dangerous bat, for the low, low price of Gio Urshela.

And Urshela’s value to the Yankees during these turbulent times couldn’t be greater. A few hours after Aaron Boone said that Urshela would be the team’s starting third baseman for the foreseeable future, he made his manager look good with a tying two-run homer in the ninth inning that paved the way for DJ LeMahieu’s game-winning RBI single in the Yankees’ 5-4 comeback victory Tuesday night at the soggy Stadium.

Urshela, who’s pulling in roughly $555K this season, launched a 433-foot shot off the former Met Anthony Swarzak that landed on the netting above Monument Park. He mashed an 0-and-2 pitch, a 95-mph fastball that split the plate, then pumped his fist as he rounded first base.

“It feels good,” Urshela said. “I was really excited for that moment.”

Urshela initially wound up as the Yankees’ starting third baseman by accident -- specifically the shoulder injury to Miguel Andujar -- and now it’s become nearly impossible to move him off the position. He’s hitting .360 (27-for-75) with a .951 OPS in 26 games. In case you’re wondering, Machado was at .237 and .758 through his first 35 games heading into Tuesday night.

Hardly what the Yankees anticipated when Andujar was placed on the injured list April 1 with the small labrum tear. Gone was the runner-up for Rookie of the Year, and at the time, it was considered a devastating setback.

The Yankees didn’t go crazy after Machado because they felt comfortable leaving Andujar at third base as a fiscally prudent alternative. Andujar had his defensive shortcomings, sure. A suspect arm being the worst of it. But stacked alongside the rest of this lineup’s firepower, Andujar’s glove issues didn’t figure to be a serious problem.

These days, however, it’s not a concern at all. Because the Yankees don’t need him out there, and they’re trying to do whatever possible to prevent him from wearing a glove, period. No one saw that coming, basically because Urshela was so far off the radar in spring training.

Aaron Boone admitted as much before Tuesday night’s game against the Mariners, with Urshela making his 20th start at third base and Andujar again relegated to a third straight DH appearance. It’s just common sense, and Boone isn’t in any rush to give Andujar another shot at his old job after his two-error return on May 4.

Those gaffes are all part of the Andujar package, and neither the player nor the Yankees are letting on how much of his game is truly affected by the shoulder tear. But at the moment, Boone can maximize Andujar’s strengths by using him at DH while nearly eliminating his primary weakness. And aside from the days Gary Sanchez needs a breather in the DH spot, that’s where Andujar will stay until further notice as Urshela gets most of the reps at third.

“I mean, right now, the way we’re constructed,” Boone said before Tuesday’s game, “it’s going to be a lot that way.”

Ironically, Tuesday night wasn’t one of Urshela’s better defensive games. While he did glove a pair of grounders that cut down two Mariners at the plate, Urshela also booted another -- playing way over in the shortstop slot, near second, in the shift-- that opened the door to two Seattle runs in the eighth that put them up, 4-1. That still left plenty of time, however, for Urshela to make up for his rare fielding mistake.

“He’s been amazing on both sides of the ball,” said Cameron Maybin, who singled, stole second and scored the game-winner. “Thats what it’s about -- bouncing back and having a short memory.”  

The Yankees have a roster squeeze looming on the horizon, and with Urshela out of minor-league options, he’s solidified his spot for when that day comes. As for Andujar -- if his shoulder stays intact -- he now has an uphill climb to reclaim his old job. There was a time when Andujar was an intriguing trade piece, but the labrum tear seems to rule that out for this season. The Yankees have talked in the past about trying Andujar at first and in leftfield, but that is yet to even reach an experimental stage.

With the team in almost constant flux, needing 35 different players to get through 35 games, Urshela has more than covered for Andujar’s uncertainty. He’s eclipsed him, and in the process, created more difficult questions for the future.

New York Sports