Their first two steps into deeper water didn’t go well, but now the Yankees need to prove they can handle teams that are actually good as opposed to the awful clubs they beat up despite having many of their own big names on the injured list.
Joe Torre often said baseball is a game in which people have to prove themselves to themselves every day. Having dropped all five games they’ve played this season against teams with winning records — the Astros and Diamondbacks — the Yankees need to prove to themselves they can handle clubs with a pulse.
As players trickle back from the IL, the Yankees will face three teams with winning records — the Twins, Mariners and Rays — in a 10-game stretch that could determine whether their recent 11-4 record put together by replacements won’t be wasted.
CC Sabathia was the first guy back from the IL and Gary Sanchez followed. Rehabbing Miguel Andujar played in a third minor league game Thursday night and Aaron Hicks has been participating in extended spring training games. Giancarlo Stanton, after spending time in Southern California, is scheduled to rejoin the Yankees on Friday night to continue rehabbing his left biceps, but it is not known when he will come off the shelf.
Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino are further away.
No one can deny the job done by a replacement group led by infielder Gio Urshela and pitcher Domingo German, but with the schedule moving up in class, that group needs help from the varsity.
That could come from Andujar this weekend if the Yankees believe the torn labrum in his right shoulder is strong enough to allow him to make throws from third base. If it’s not, DH is a possibility, with first base a distant-third option.
Urshela has impressed, and even as more players filter back onto the roster, the right-handed hitting third baseman, who has limited experience at short and second, could stick when Andujar returns.
“I feel like we have a lot of good stories of guys who have come up and contributed, and Gio is right there in the center of it,” Aaron Boone said of the 27-year-old who surfaced on April 6 and takes a .339 batting average, a .400 on-base percentage and a .900 OPS into Friday night’s action. “A lot of big hits for us, and you have seen the tremendous defense at third. He has had a hand in a lot of victories for us. He has been a really good player for us.”
The tougher schedule comes at a time when the AL East-leading Rays are coming off getting swept in a doubleheader Wednesday by the morbid Royals, and the Red Sox took three straight from the A’s. The second-place Yankees trail the Rays by 2 ½ lengths, and for all the angst running through New England, the Red Sox are 3 ½ games back of their blood rivals.
Of course the injury bug is never far away, and second baseman DJ LeMahieu missed the two games in Phoenix due to a right knee problem that cropped up last weekend in San Francisco when he fouled a ball off his knee. He said Wednesday he was getting “close” to returning.
Getting his bat and glove back in the lineup would aid the Yankees in their upcoming tests. LeMahieu is hitting .310 and has played exceptionally in the field.
This 10-game stretch is by no means a make-or-break for the Yankees. It’s early May, and this step up in competition is followed by 10 games against the Orioles and Royals sandwiched around three against the Rays in The Bronx.
Yankee fans seemingly enjoyed what the replacements helped build, but there are shelf lives for some of the players who contributed. That means not only do the injured need to come back, they have to perform so the recent season-saving 11-4 ledger is viewed as nothing more than a warm and fuzzy story.
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