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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees' bats look like they've retired, too; what can Aaron Boone do to shake things up?

Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge tosses his helmet after

Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge tosses his helmet after he strikes out with two men on base to end the fifth inning against the Rays in an MLB game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Maybe Jay Bruce was a bit too hasty with the retirement thing.

If he had held off for a few more days, he could have been hitting cleanup for the Yankees. Or third. Or fifth. He’d probably get his pick.

Aaron Boone seemed to be a manager out of options after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Rays, who thwarted Gerrit Cole’s 10-strikeout gem to complete the weekend sweep. If a miserable April were enough of a reason for every slumping Yankee to hang up his spikes, Boone wouldn’t have enough names for a lineup Tuesday when Atlanta arrives in the Bronx.

Bruce was hitting .118 (3-for-34) when he decided to call it quits with an official announcement before Sunday’s matinee. By his estimation, the performance told him he was done after 13 years (plus another 10 games in pinstripes).

 

So what’s the excuse for the rest of the Yankees?

Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton — the lineup’s 2-4 hitters — currently are in an 8-for-71 (.112) slide. At least Stanton homered Sunday to give Cole a 1-0 lead in the second inning — the Yankees’ first since Wednesday, amazingly enough — but it quickly disappeared in the third, thanks in part to a pair of defensive miscues (one of them an error) by Hicks.

Whatever the Yankees’ analytics army is saying upstairs, it’s becoming painfully obvious that regardless of the switch-hitting protection he provides, Hicks needs to be moved out of the No. 3 spot. But it’s not as if Boone has any ready-made replacements for him. The Yankees had three hits Sunday and totaled 11 for the entire weekend in dropping their seventh straight series to the Rays, including last year’s playoffs.

They’re batting .210 (27th in MLB) with a .642 OPS (29th). The Yankees are 5-10 for the first time since 1997, and only the Rockies (12) have more losses. Writing in virtually the same names over and over again isn’t working. It may eventually, but it isn’t now, and the Yankees need a win somehow.

"There will potentially be some more opportunities from guys that maybe haven’t played as much," Boone said.

The Yankees didn’t waste any time tossing Bruce aside once they traded for Rougned Odor, sliding DJ LeMahieu over to first base while they wait for the return of Luke Voit from knee surgery. They were so desperate for a victory Sunday that Bruce couldn’t even crack the lineup for a farewell swing in the Bronx. He had to settle for a video board salute and a duffel bag full of memories.

Who’s next to get bumped to the bench? Clint Frazier would seem to be the logical choice. The Yankees have made it abundantly clear that despite being named the starting leftfielder in spring training, Frazier already is on shaky ground. They've been sitting him for 37-year-old Brett Gardner more than anyone expected this early.

Unfortunately for Frazier, he hasn’t done much to dissuade them. Not only is he hitting .167 (6-for-36) with 14 strikeouts, but he has a streak of 66 consecutive plate appearances without driving in a run, the second-longest in the majors. Only Cleveland’s Josh Naylor has been worse (97).

But it probably hasn’t been easy for Frazier to play in Gardner’s shadow. That isn’t very helpful for a young player’s confidence, especially once you’ve been given the long-coveted starting job, only to have it feel like a three-week rental.

In the third inning Sunday, it looked as if Frazier’s head was elsewhere when he failed to make a routine throw to second base to prevent Yandy Diaz from moving into scoring position on Manuel Margot’s sacrifice fly. Frazier just flung the ball randomly to the infield, in the direction of Cole and LeMahieu, and Diaz easily scooted for second.

The Yankees didn’t get burned by that particular blunder, but Frazier’s random throw was indicative of the team’s sloppy play overall, just like Hicks twice kicking the ball around in center.

The Rays live in those margins, and as a result, they were able to dent Cole just enough to deal the Yankees their 18th loss in the teams’ last 23 meetings.

If the Yankees were hammering balls all over the Bronx, as they’re built to do, then maybe Cole doesn’t have to sweat getting beaten on a changeup to Yoshi Tsutsugo — a .189 hitter since coming to the majors last year — for the tiebreaking RBI double in the seventh. But everyone is choking on the exhaust fumes from this sputtering offense.

"For several of our cylinders that we lean on to not be clicking at the same time and kind of misfiring, this is a bit less than ideal, certainly," Cole said. "But we have too much experience, and players that have been through adversity before, to really be surprised by it. You play this game long enough, you’re going to go through some crap."

Bruce is free of that now. As for the Yankees he leaves behind, they’re still waist-deep in it.

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