Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu grimaces as he walks off...

Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu grimaces as he walks off the field after his bat during the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Credit: JASON SZENES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/JASON SZENES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

It’s OK if you don’t want to hear those three cursed words anymore, Yankees fans.

You know the ones. They were repeated over and over last year – part rallying cry, part mantra, part plain old practicality.

“Next man up.”

But though that exact phrase didn’t come out of Aaron Boone’s mouth Wednesday afternoon, it was there in spirit. DJ LeMahieu – one of only three regular players who managed to avoid the injured list in 2019 – just confirmed that he would be out between two to three weeks with his sprained thumb. Aaron Judge, out since last week with a strained right calf, will maybe be back by Saturday, after this important Rays series, while Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring) won’t be back for another three to four weeks.

So the Yankees again find themselves again cobbling together a lineup without their biggest bats, hoping for a repeat of that 2019 magic that made Mike Ford or Cameron Maybin or Mike Tauchman into a perfectly potent substitutes. Wednesday, it meant Thairo Estrada slotting into second base.

And though none of this would be considered good news, it’s at least familiar, and believe it or not, that’s enough to give the Yankees an edge. They’re still leading the American League East, despite the Rays being a little too close to comfort, the expanded playoffs mean they have less to worry about than they did last year, and they’ve done this all before. In 2019, they sent 30 players to the injured list, a major-league record, and still made it all the way to the ALCS.

“I think we have a better handle on some of our guys that have to go step in now,” Boone said. “We’ve seen guys across the board last year come step into a regular role and, almost to a man, deliver in significant ways.”

That means Ford, a rookie last year, is now a known quantity. Gio Urshela has gone from sub to playing Miguel Andujar out of a job. At second, Estrada is the choice if the Yankees want a heavier bat, while Tyler Wade can be slotted in for defense and speed.

In that last instance, it isn’t even a case of either, or, Boone said. In many ways, they’re two different sides of a coin, that can be deployed strategically specifically because they offset each other’s weaknesses (Estrada came into the game hitting 4-for-9, while Wade is batting .190). Boone even said it was possible that Wade would just be slotted in at a different time in the game, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the duo used that way for the duration of LeMahieu's injury.

But of course nothing is going to perfectly substitute LeMahieu's .411 batting average. And while we're at it, nobody is going to quite reproduce Stanton’s spirit-crushing, galaxy-orbiting home runs. Or the knot in every pitcher’s stomach when he sees Judge’s name scrawled in the lineup. It’s disappointing for the players, too. Stanton seemed visibly upset when he last spoke about his injury. Judge is thoroughly itching to get back into a game, and didn't want to be put on the injured list in the first place. LeMahieu Wednesday said he was frustrated: “I don’t even know what I did,” he said. “It was a weird, freak thing.”

A freak thing, maybe. But when it comes to the Yankees, it was hardly weird. Oh well. Nothing else to do but slot in another name.

“A lot of the guys (that contributed last year) remain here and are getting those opportunities,” Boone said. “We have that information and it heightens our confidence and our ability to withstand it when we do have some guys who go down.”

In other words…well, you know.


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