It has been more than a month since Miguel Andujar partly tore the labrum in his right shoulder, which in injured list time is nearly an eternity. When he said on Friday that waiting to be activated had been “tough,” it felt like a colossal understatement.
Such is the impatience of Andujar, the runner-up for the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award last season, who has totaled just 13 at-bats in 2019. Finally, though, that is about to change.
Andujar will be activated before Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, Manager Aaron Boone said on Friday, and the sense of relief will be palpable from the dugout to the bleachers at Yankee Stadium.
With the Yankees’ lineup full of emergency call-ups and bench players, Andujar’s return could be just the beginning of the end of the team’s injury nightmare: Aaron Hicks, battling a bad back since spring training, will begin playing minor league games in Tampa next week; Clint Frazier’s sprained ankle has sufficiently healed for the Yankees to project activating him on Monday; and D.J. LeMahieu, who has been nursing a sore knee, could be added to the lineup on Saturday, as well.
There are still big names who are far from returning, though: Luis Severino (lat strain) and Aaron Judge (oblique strain) are nowhere near being ready for game-related activities, and Giancarlo Stanton (strained biceps) has not swung a bat competitively since the end of March. And as yet another reminder of the Yankees’ frailty, starter James Paxton had to leave Friday’s game after three innings because of soreness in his left knee.
Paxton, a left-hander said he did not believe the injury was serious — “It was just barking for some reason; I don’t think it’s going to be anything long term” — but he will nevertheless have a magnetic resonance imaging test on Saturday morning. Paxton described the sensation as a dull pain that made it difficult to gather himself over the rubber as he began his delivery.
The Yankees, who used five relievers to compensate for Paxton’s early exit, nevertheless shut down the Twins, 6-3, in the opening act of what could be a could be a telling 10-game homestand.
They are about to test themselves against the Twins, the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays — all clubs with winning records. Going into Friday night, the Yankees were 0-5 against clubs above .500. So it was no wonder Andujar’s return is being regarded as a difference-maker — he is likely to plug into the No. 6 spot, which is currently manned by the rookie Gio Urshela.
The question, however, will not be so much about Andujar’s power and bat speed, as neither figured to be affected by the shoulder injury. Rather, it is his defense — specifically, his ability to throw across the diamond from third base — that will decide whether avoiding surgery on the shoulder was wise.
Make no mistake: Playing the rest of the season with a partial labral tear is a gamble. Although all parties expressed confidence that Andujar would be fine, a dose of uncertainty remains over how the shoulder will hold up after repeated high-velocity throws in high-stress situations.
“Anytime you walk out on the field, you’re at risk,” Boone said before the game. “But I don’t think he would be going out there if we thought like this was something, if you’re throwing or whatever, he would hurt himself more.”
Andujar has passed every test so far in the trainer’s room and in minor league games in Tampa. With each day, his confidence grew, and he worried less about the ramifications of making the injury worse: The first time he needs to gun a late-inning throw to first, Andujar said, he will be ready. And to ease his transition and the concern over reinjuring the shoulder, the Yankees intend to give Andujar at-bats as a designated hitter.
Needless to say, Andujar is not being choosy about his playing time, not after spending endless days as an outsider on his own team.
“It’s been tough to watch the games and not have the opportunity to compete,” Andujar said through an interpreter. “It’s the first time in my career that I’ve gone down with an injury and been on the sidelines and not been able to help. For sure, it’s been tough.”
Andujar is fortunate in one regard: His low, three-quarter delivery puts less strain on his arm than a conventional, higher arm-slot. And the fact that he is an infielder and not a pitcher also makes a difference: Infielders can salvage the season with a compromised labrum; a pitcher, however, would almost certainly be headed for surgery.
Andujar may yet require an operation this winter; he said the club had not discussed it with him. Boone, for one, repeated the company line that Andujar would not be on the field if the risk were great. For now, the Yankees are focusing on the coming challenges and seeking to answer lingering questions to glean a truer sense of who they are.
Is this a roster that was merely good enough to beat up on weaker opponents like the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants? Or can the Yankees hold their own against two division leaders (the Twins and the Rays) and the team with the majors’ most dominant lineup so far (the Mariners)?
The verdict will soon be returned, but either way, the Yankees are glad Andujar has finally joined them for the litmus test.