TAMPA — If only overhauling a baseball team’s training and conditioning protocol served as clean a process as, say, executing a gut renovation of your home, the 2020 Yankees could enjoy their new foundation care-free.
Alas, you can put up new walls, or install a completely new air-conditioning system. But you can’t paper over the aches and pains your pitchers felt last fall.
Meet the new Yankees injuries. Same as, it turns out, some of the old Yankees injuries. And just like that, before Grapefruit League action begins, the American League East might not be a cakewalk for these guys after all.
The Yankees announced Thursday they have shut down Luis Severino with right forearm soreness, which understandably set off sirens. Team physician Christopher Ahmad could examine Severino on Friday, at which point they will take the next step. As future Hall of Fame pitcher Curt Schilling noted on Twitter, “Anytime you hear forearm you have to think UCL,” which is what requires Tommy John surgery to repair.
“Certainly concerning,” is how Aaron Boone described it, and what’s most mind-blowing is the reality that Severino first felt this condition after his ALCS Game 3 start against the Astros last Oct. 15, eerily reminiscent of how James Paxton first messed up his back last Sept. 27, his final regular-season start. Paxton — who did make three postseason starts — wound up undergoing surgery this month and hopes to return in early May.
Moreover, Aaron Hicks will miss at least the first few months of the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. And in a non-injury matter that also traces back to last year, Domingo German must serve another 63 games for the 81-game suspension he accepted upon breaking baseball’s domestic-violence rules last September.
It adds up to considerable baggage for a franchise that spent its offseason 1) signing Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract with the ambitions of elevating its starting rotation to an elite level, and 2) completely restructuring how it trains and treats its most prized assets in the wake of last year’s injury epidemic. February has provided anything besides a fresh start, the extended Cole honeymoon notwithstanding.
“Our approach to this discussion with you today is, make sure we put out on the table that everything’s possible, because there’s an unknown right now,” Brian Cashman said of Severino’s situation.
If Severino begins the regular season inactive alongside Paxton and German, then Cole’s rotation mates would include Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ (no wonder the Yankees didn’t trade him), probably Jordan Montgomery and … Deivi Garcia? Jonathan Loaisiga? Clarke Schmidt? Opener Chad Green and a merry band of relievers? Hardly a disastrous group, yet not the bastion of depth the Yankees envisioned.
“Obviously you’d prefer to run your ‘A’ team out there,” Cashman said, “but I think we have a pretty strong ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D’ team as well.”
It helps the Yankees immensely that the Red Sox enter considerably weakened by the Mookie Betts/David Price trade with the Dodgers, the Astros lost Cole plus their soul (thanks to the sign-stealing scandal) and the Orioles might be even worse than last year’s 54-108 group. Then again, those developments help the dangerous Rays immensely, too.
Cashman and his medical group have another cloudy optic to absorb in the form of Severino never quite getting through this soreness — although he was prepared to start ALCS Game 7 if not for Jose Altuve’s Game 6 walk-off homer, after which he didn’t remove his uniform top — and even flying twice to New York from his native Dominican Republic for further testing, just as Paxton’s back condition lingered on and off for months. However, the truth shows how tricky these situations can be. Tanaka’s success since his 2014 diagnosis of a slightly torn UCL has forever silenced the “Just get surgery already!” line of criticism; going under the knife always stands as the last resort.
No matter whether or not the Yankees erred, though, they have scars to heal. Crosses to bear. Games and pennants to win at less than full strength — again.
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