The clock is ticking on DJ LeMahieu’s potential return to the Yankees’ lineup.
After initially hoping to come back from the injured list during this homestand, LeMahieu was again limited to taking ground balls at third base and a less-than-full-effort batting practice on Friday at Yankee Stadium.
And while he said he is feeling better, two weeks removed from landing on the 10-day IL with inflammation of his right second toe, LeMahieu also said Friday that he could not play in his current physical state.
“It’s two weeks, it’s a little bit better,” LeMahieu said before the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 5-4. “We have a week and a half left in the season. So I don’t want to just shut it down and have to ramp up again. So I’m staying as ready as I can without being stupid. I don’t think at this point it’s really going to go away. It’s just, stay ready and let them know how I feel. I’ll be ready to go whenever that day is.”
Though manager Aaron Boone said the three-game series next week in Toronto would be “a possibility” for LeMahieu, it remains unclear if there will be a sink-or-swim moment for the veteran. After Friday, the Yankees had 12 games left in the regular season, then a likely five-day layoff before the ALDS begins.
Boone said earlier this week that once the Yankees “let it rip” with LeMahieu, “then you start the breakdown of it.” The Yankees were still determining when to start that potential clock, though LeMahieu said he thought he would need at-bats in some capacity before jumping into a playoff series.
The Yankees could try to get LeMahieu those at-bats in simulated games between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. But Boone said “it’s possible” that LeMahieu could have a finite number of at-bats when he returns.
“But it’s the great unknown,” Boone said Friday. “That’s what I keep saying about it. It’s been a really tricky injury to get our arms around. What treatments we can do, if and when you can do a shot, things like that. We’ll see.”
Boone said there were no plans for LeMahieu to receive another cortisone shot — which he got during the All-Star break — but alluded to other shots that could help with the pain periodically.
LeMahieu can be an impactful hitter for the Yankees when he’s healthy, but the toe injury clearly hindered him when he tried to play through it before landing on the IL. Across his last 20 games, since the toe issue began to reemerge in mid-August, the 34-year-old was batting just 10-for-78 (.128) with no extra-base hits.
“Most importantly, if I can’t get my swing off, then I’m kind of useless,” LeMahieu said.
LeMahieu didn’t play in the AL wild-card game loss to the Red Sox last year because of a sports hernia that required surgery. Asked if his current toe injury would require offseason surgery, LeMahieu said he didn’t think so, but added, “we’re just trying to make it through the season and then kind of reevaluate after that.”
In the meantime, the waiting game continued as to when LeMahieu might be able to go all in on hitting and truly test his lingering toe injury.
“I’m just going to keep doing as much baseball activity as I can and go from there,” LeMahieu said. “The trainers are doing a great job. Just talking through it, helping me out…. I feel like I’m in there three or four hours a day, stuff at home, everything. So we’re throwing everything at it we can and just progressing like we can.”
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