Maybe there is such a thing as an injury bug.
Before a rain-shortened 9-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Friday, the Yankees placed catcher Gary Sanchez, their best power hitter through the first two weeks of the season, on the 10-day injured list with a left calf strain. Sanchez is the Yankees’ 12th player on the injured list, the most in the major leagues.
It got worse later in the day: Manager Aaron Boone revealed that relief pitcher Dellin Betances’ return from a shoulder injury discovered in spring training had been stalled. Betances had been hoping to perhaps return later this month, but his recent simulated game at the team’s facility in Tampa, Fla., “didn’t go great,” Boone said, so Betances flew to New York for a magnetic resonance imaging examination on Friday and a visit with the team doctor.
Betances will receive a cortisone shot in the back of his right shoulder, where he has had a bone spur for many years. The Yankees have known about the spur since 2006, when they drafted Betances, but it hasn’t caused a problem until now, General Manager Brian Cashman said.
Betances will be shut down for three weeks, and the Yankees hope he can return to the roster in six to seven weeks.
“Is it frustrating? Yes,” Cashman said. “That’s why we try to underpromise and over-perform and protect ourselves on timelines, and our timelines have exceeded that. There’s obviously things that are not anticipated, and we’re dealing with it.”
Perhaps the most unexpected news from Cashman was that the Yankees didn’t know how their staff ace, Luis Severino, who was recovering from inflammation in his throwing shoulder under the team’s supervision in Tampa, had sustained a significant latissimus dorsi muscle strain that was discovered this week. Severino was throwing from flat ground and hoping to progress to throwing off a mound when he suddenly stopped throwing with the same force.
“There’s nothing that I can provide to you that can explain how he wound up with a Grade 2 lat strain,” Cashman said. “The protocols that he was going through would not provide that. We are trying to piece that together, to be honest.”
The loss to the White Sox, in a game halted during the seventh inning, was the Yankees’ fourth straight. They couldn’t overcome sloppy pitching by J.A. Happ, who was pulled after failing to record an out in the fifth inning, and by Jonathan Holder and Chad Green.
“There’s frustration there,” Cashman said, “because we’re not getting the competitive play from the healthy guys that we should expect.”
Sanchez had hoped to return to action on Friday even though he was dealing with what he described as tightness in his legs earlier in the week. Instead, he will nurse his calf and hope to return as soon as the 10 days of his I.L. stint are over.
“It surprised me a little,” Sanchez said. “I thought I didn’t have anything there since I didn’t feel it. It was a little frustrating when they told me there was something there and that I can’t help the team while I’m feeling good at the plate.”
Sanchez said on Friday that his calf had not bothered him since he felt tightness during Monday’s game against the Houston Astros. The Yankees gave him some relief the next game by starting him at designated hitter. He wasn’t in the starting lineup on Wednesday, coming in as a pinch-hitter late in the game.
But an M.R.I. examination during the Yankees’ off day Thursday revealed the strain. Sanchez did not want to go on the I.L. and wanted to keep playing, Boone said, but the team decided otherwise.
“That’s their decision,” said Sanchez, who had two I.L. stints last season because of a nagging groin injury. “They’re trying to take care of me. I understand and support it. They don’t want a small problem now — and knowing that I’m a catcher and have to move a lot — that it doesn’t become a larger problem that lasts like two months.”
Boone said he expected Sanchez’s absence to be short, which would be welcome news for the Yankees. Entering Friday, Sanchez led the team with six home runs and a 1.065 on-base plus slugging percentage in 11 games. In his absence, the Yankees will lean on the backup catcher Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka, who was called up from Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Friday.
The Yankees’ injured list could practically field an entire team on its own: outfielders Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton and Jacoby Ellsbury; infielders Miguel Andujar, Troy Tulowitzki and Didi Gregorius; pitchers Severino, C. C. Sabathia, Betances, Ben Heller and Jordan Montgomery; and Sanchez.
In all, about $88 million in 2019 salaries is on the I.L. — more than the entire opening-day payrolls of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles and American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays, according to the website Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
Sabathia is slated to return from the I.L. on Saturday to make his season debut after recovering from off-season operations on his heart and knee. Andujar made light throws and took his first swings on Friday, part of the process to determine if he can avoid season-ending surgery on the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
Stanton, who is recovering from a left biceps strain, began swinging this week, and there is a chance “he could be back sooner rather than later,” Boone said. Hicks is farther away in his rehabilitation from a back injury sustained in spring training. Now, Betances, who had a right shoulder impingement that sapped his velocity, is dealing with a bump in his road to recovery.
“It’s hard, yeah,” Sanchez said of landing on the I.L. “But for the 11 other players it’s hard, too. No one wants to be hurt. You always want to be healthy and helping the team.”
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