BALTIMORE — CC Sabathia was the picture of health Friday night, striking out eight over six innings and never once showing any signs of the right knee inflammation that sidelined him earlier this month. But it’s the rest of the Yankees who have looked sick lately, from the growing ranks on the disabled list to the able-bodied crew that still has trouble with the terrible Orioles.
As for a diagnosis of what’s ailing this team, the indefinite absence of Aaron Judge certainly has taken a toll. And the trickle-down effect of Aroldis Chapman’s knee tendinitis will shorten the bullpen, perhaps the Yankees’ greatest strength.
Against that backdrop, Sabathia taming the Orioles for a night at Camden Yards was a reason for the Yankees to feel somewhat better, if only because he left the mound under his power. Luke Voit’s two homers also helped, as did Neil Walker’s tiebreaking shot in the 10th inning. With Zach Britton replacing Chapman as closer in his Baltimore homecoming, the Yankees finally outlasted the O’s, 7-5.
The fact that Voit and Walker played prominent roles was another reminder of why the Yankees really can’t afford any more significant injuries. Sabathia’s only moment of weakness Friday was allowing two runs in the first inning on three singles, including a bunt hit, and a walk. Aaron Boone smartly chose to play it safe by limiting him to 80 pitches.
Sabathia’s return was a welcome change from the Yankees’ disturbing rash of recent departures, some of whom could be gone for a while. Other than Didi Gregorius saying before the game that his bruised heel feels better than he expected, suggesting a potential return around the time his 10-day DL stint is up, the rest was more concerning.
Judge, for instance, continues to wallow in limbo, without any real timetable. The fractured right wrist still is painful, so he’s yet to pick up a bat, nearly a month after suffering the injury. By the time Judge does swing again, the minor-league seasons will be just about over, robbing him of a rehab assignment. The Yankees’ company line remains the same, however, with Boone refusing to put his September in doubt.
“Physically speaking, I think it will go quickly, when he gets a bat in his hands,” Boone said Friday. “He’s in good shape.”
That’s an overly hopeful view, mainly because his timing at the plate is a totally different animal than his conditioning, as Judge has been able to run the bases and do some fielding drills — without throwing. And the clock is ticking. It’s hard to see Judge ready in time for the critical road trip through Oakland and Seattle during the first week of September. At this stage, however, they’d be thrilled to get him back at all.
The same could be said for Chapman, who had to bow out of Tuesday’s game in Miami when the knee tendinitis he’s battled for most of this season flared up to intolerable levels. Chapman was in obvious pain that night when he beckoned for the training staff to retrieve him from the mound. And at this late stage, is it possible to reverse the cumulative effects of the wear and tear on his knee?
The Yankees are trying. Chapman received a platelet-rich plasma injection to hopefully accelerate the healing process. But even Boone, who’s done his best to minimize every brushfire, couldn’t deny that the only way to remedy the problem is with an extended rest during the offseason. In the meantime, the Yankees have to get him through the next five weeks, and into October, which feels like a big ask. Boone didn’t want to look that far ahead.
“I think in two weeks, we’ll see where we’re at,” Boone said. “I’m optimistic he’ll return as an impactful player this season at some point.”
So count out Chapman until Sept. 7, and probably longer, because this is another case of managing the pain rather than fixing the issue. And will the Yankees wind up getting a diminished Chapman upon his return? Just another question mark replacing one of the team’s most dominant players, and there’s only so many of those a roster can sustain, even with the redundancies Brian Cashman built in. Now it’s about keeping those cracks from threatening the entire foundation.