Almost all of the attention this weekend in The Bronx will be on Aaron Judge and his chase for home run No. 62.
Perhaps more important, at least for the Yankees’ postseason hopes, is what DJ LeMahieu looks like in his return from the injured list.
LeMahieu is expected to be activated off the injured list on Friday to play against the Orioles and see if he can at least resemble the player he was before a lingering toe issue hampered his swing for the better part of a month.
Over the final seven games of the regular season, the Yankees need to see what they have in LeMahieu — who isn’t expected to be 100 percent the rest of the way — before determining whether he can be part of their ALDS roster.
Prior to landing on the IL earlier this month, LeMahieu was batting just 10-for-78 (.128) with no extra-base hits over his last 20 games. The pain in his toe was preventing him from fully rotating on his back (right) foot during at-bats, and the results were evident.
LeMahieu said last week that, if he can’t get his swing off, “then I’m kind of useless.” He has been taking batting practice in the meantime at increasing levels of intensity, but only real game at-bats will serve as a true test of what he can handle.
Rookie shortstop Oswald Peraza, who recorded a pair of hits and his first career RBI in a rare start Wednesday night, is a likely candidate to be optioned to make room on the 28-man roster.
If LeMahieu proves capable, the Yankees will have some difficult decisions on their hands regarding not just the playoff roster, but also what their starting lineup will look like.
LeMahieu’s return would give the Yankees five infielders for four spots — a puzzle that was helped earlier in the season by giving each infielder the occasional day off and having Giancarlo Stanton play the outfield to open up the DH spot. But manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday that Stanton’s return to the outfield (where he hasn’t played since dealing with Achilles tendinitis) was currently “not in the mix.”
The Yankees are more focused on getting Stanton fixed at the plate. He is batting just 14-for-96 (.146) with four home runs, a .522 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 26 games since coming back from the IL.