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The last time Matt Carpenter had been in any lineup was May 17, for the Texas Rangers’ Class AAA affiliate at Round Rock.
But hours after he agreed to a big-league contract with the Yankees, the veteran lefty-hitting infielder was suddenly thrust into manager Aaron Boone’s lineup against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"Fired up'' for whatever role the Yankees want him in, Carpenter told reporters at St. Petersburg, Fla., that, “If they want me to load the bags on the plane, that’s what I’ll do.''
As the designated hitter batting eighth Thursday night, Carpenter reached safely twice (hit by pitch, walk) and scored twice in the Yankees' 7-2 win at Tropicana Field.
Struggling center fielder Aaron Hicks was a late scratch from Thursday’s lineup, due to right hamstring tightness, though he was hopeful of being ready to return Friday.
It has been brutal month for the switch-hitting Hicks, batting .136 with three RBI and just one extra-base hit (double) in 66 at-bats. With runners in scoring position this season, Hicks is 3-for-26 (.115).
Carpenter, 36, triggered his release from Class AAA Round Rock last week, after batting .275 with six home runs and 19 RBI in 21 games (95 plate appearances) with a .991 OPS.
In 2018, Carpenter hit 36 homers, drove in 81 runs and had an .897 OPS, but since then he has slashed .203/.325/.346 in 309 MLB games (910 plate appearances) through the 2021 season.
Waiting on LeMahieu, Donaldson
Due to the Yankees’ current injury situation, they viewed Carpenter – a former three-time NL All-Star during his 11-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals – as a versatile option with his ability to play the corner infield spots as well as second base.
The Yankees were still waiting on DJ LeMahieu and Josh Donaldson, and their lineup was further compromised with Giancarlo Stanton (ankle inflammation) on the IL.
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LeMahieu has not played since a pinch-hitting appearance Monday due to left wrist discomfort (he had a cortisone shot Tuesday) but was hopeful of being available Friday.
Donaldson remains on the COVID-19 injured list, having last played Sunday.
He is also appealing a one-game suspension by Major League Baseball for comments he directed at Chicago shortstop Tim Anderson.
Donaldson remained in New York on Thursday but might still join the Yankees during the Rays series.
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Four takeaways from Thursday
1. Nasty again
After dodging early trouble, Nestor Cortes (109 pitches) pitched into the ninth inning, charged with just one run in the Yankees' 7-2 win - their first meeting against the second-place Rays this year.
Cortes (4-1) continues to make the right adjustments. He countered the Rays’ aggressive right-handed lineup by being even more aggressive, using elevated fastballs off his cutter and lowering his ERA to 1.70.
2. Out of left field
Once the Yankees get healthier, Miguel Andujar could challenge Joey Gallo for left field playing time.
Andujar has lately looked more like his slashing 2018 version at the plate, delivering an RBI single in the pivotal sixth inning and playing a steady left field - not his natural position.
In the nightmarish Trop, Andujar's charging, diving catch of a sinking liner ended the first inning with runners at the corners.
3. Over in right
Speaking of Gallo, he started in right field Thursday and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
Recently returned from the COVID injured list, the lefty-hitting slugger has gone hitless in his last 20 at-bats and is a 1-for-25 slide with 11 strikeouts.
4. Center stage
With Hicks out of the lineup, Aaron Judge played center field and hit leadoff - just the second time he's batted first in a big-league start.
Judge's RBI single off Rays' starter Ryan Yarbrough - who had a no-hitter through five innings - snapped a scoreless tie in the Yanks' three-run sixth inning.
Once a big-time lefty prospect for the Yankees, Manny Banuelos, 31, was added to their active roster as a reliever, after the club optioned Wednesday’s starter (and winner) JP Sears back to Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Originally signed by the Yankees as an international free agent in 2008, Banuelos' promise was derailed by arm injuries.
Banuelos has 23 big-league appearances, having last pitched with the 2019 White Sox.
But he was impressive as a non-roster invitee to Yankees camp this spring and was off to a good start at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre - a 2.35 ERA in 30.2 innings with 30 strikeouts.
Also, the Yankees signed right-hander Shane Greene, 33, to a minor league deal after his release from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He'll report to Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
A former 15th-round draft pick by the Yankees (2009), Greene made 14 starts for the 2014 Yankees before his inclusion in a three-way trade that netted shortstop Didi Gregorius.
Greene was an All-Star closer with the Detroit Tigers in 2019 and has pitched to a 3.61 ERA since the 2017 season with the Tigers, Atlanta Braves and Dodgers.
Lefty-hitting catcher Rob Brantly was out-righted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Yankees also optioned center fielder Estevan Florial to Scranton, following Wednesday night's game.
Pete Caldera is the Yankees beat writer for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all Yankees analysis, news, trades and more, please subscribe today and download our app.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Matt Carpenter gets start for Yankees with Aaron Hicks out