Aaron Boone said Saturday night that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of DJ LeMahieu leading off his lineup on Opening Day, even though the infielder missed the first two weeks of rebooted spring training. By Sunday afternoon, LeMahieu was in the lineup for the Yankees second exhibition game against the Mets.
“When we went through and kind of mapped out a little bit of a plan moving forward, today seemed to make some sense,” the Yankees manager explained.
LeMahieu was in the race for the batting title last season as the Yankees leadoff hitter and arguably the MVP of the 2019 Yankees team. He missed the first two weeks of training camp because he had tested positive for the coronavirus about two weeks before baseball restarted the 2020 season.
LeMahieu had spent most of the three-and-a-half month hiatus continuing to work at the Yankees’ spring training facility in Tampa. He said Friday he never had any of the symptoms of COVID-19 and was able to do some work during the two weeks he was waiting to get cleared.
The trick for LeMahieu and the Yankees is to push to get him ready for what will be a sprint of a 60-game season without pushing to the point of injury.
“I want to do as much as I can without overdoing it,” LeMahieu said Saturday. “So, just for me to get on the field early, check in with our trainers, keep pushing the envelope a little bit and get ready as quick as I can.”
LeMahieu said he came in feeling fine physically, so getting back is now just a matter of finding his timing and approach against Major League, game-speed pitching.
And that is why he was back in the lineup Sunday night. It would be a short night, about two at-bats Boone said, but a chance for him to get a look at live pitching.
An All-Star in 2019 for the third time in his nine-year career, LeMahieu hit .327/.375/.518 with a career-high 26 homers and 102 RBI. Leading off for the Yankees in 126 of the 145 games he played last season, LeMahieu was in the race for the batting title until the final month.
CHAPMAN RETURN ‘AMBITIOUS'
Aaron Boone is not ruling out having closer Aroldis Chapman for the season opener on Thursday night, but the Yankees manager did call it “ambitious” Sunday. Chapman tested positive for the coronavirus July 9, just a few days after he was cleared by intake testing.
“I have no idea. It seems ambitious but you know, he’s not here,” Boone said. So until he’s recovered there’s not really much to say about it.”
Luis Cessa, who had missed the first two weeks of training camp after testing positive for the coronavirus, was on the field throwing and running before Sunday night’s exhibition game against the Mets.
Boone had said he had no clarity on Cessa’s return after Saturday night’s game.
Without Chapman, the Yankees will use Zack Britton as their closer. Britton is an established, elite closer, of course, with 145 career saves. He finished fourth in Cy Young voting in 2016, the year he saved 63 games for the Orioles.
Chapman, who signed an extension this winter, has 273 career saves, including 111 over the last four seasons with the Yankees.
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