New nameplates greeted Yankees players in their clubhouse ahead of the Division Series against Minnesota: ”OCTOBER SAVAGES” is spelled out under each number, a reference to manager Aaron Boone’s famous tirade at an umpire in July.
As players worked out at Yankee Stadium on a summer-like Wednesday, Boone maintained many roster decisions have yet to be made.
”First, we’ll go through the 13th pitcher and then what makes the most sense as far as what gives us the best option off the bench,” Boone said before the workout. ”We’ll meet as a staff after the workout and hopefully finalize whether it’s 12 or 13.”
Edwin Encarnacion, who hasn’t played since Sept. 12 because of a strained left oblique, appears set to return. The 36-year-old hit in a simulated game for the second straight day and homered off left-hander Jordan Montgomery.
”I think yesterday was a little confidence-builder for him as far as the ability to let it go and then coming in today feeling like he’s ready,” Boone said.
Encarnacion hit .249 with 13 homers and 37 RBIs in 44 games for New York, which acquired him from Seattle on June 15. He made 12 appearances at first base for the Yankees, but figures to be used by Boone primarily as a designated hitter in the postseason.
”Whatever he needs me to do, I’m ready for,” Encarnacion said.
Bothered by a strained left groin that sidelined him between Sept. 12 and last Friday, Gary Sanchez also hit in simulated games this week. He was 1 for 6 at Texas last weekend.
”Took some at-bats to try and get my timing back,” Sanchez said through a translator. ”I feel like I’m seeing the ball better. … I’m looking forward to Friday.”
New York went 103-59 and won the AL East for the first time since 2012 – despite 30 players going on the injured list for a total of 39 stints.
Several players finished the season in deep slumps. Luke Voit struggled in his return from a sports hernia, ending 1 for 33, including 0 for his final 12. He could be dropped from the roster and replaced at first by DJ LeMahieu, and Voit’s roster spot could go to rookie Mike Ford, who from Aug. 17 on hit .379 with eight homers and 17 RBIs.
Shortstop Didi Gregorius hit .163 with three homers and 17 RBIs from Aug. 24 on. Boone could shift Gleyber Torres from second to shortstop, put LeMahieu at second and start Ford at first.
”I’m counting on Didi having a huge role for us,” Boone said. ”I know he struggled here a little bit in this final month, but I know that it’s certainly in there. He’s one of those guys that I feel like will be better off in this kind of environment, these kinds of games.”
Gio Urshela, who gained the third base job after Miguel Andujar got hurt, ended in a 3 for 28 slide and sprained his left ankle in Sunday’s regular-season finale. Urshela, who tested the ankle Wednesday and said he was ready to play, remembered being with Cleveland at Yankee Stadium during the 2017 Division Series and anticipates a raucous crowd.
”I’ve been here for the playoffs but I’ve seen the other side,” Urshela said of the home crowd. ”So it’s going to be fun the whole series.”
While James Paxton, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka are set as starting pitchers, Boone still has not finalized their order.
”Hopefully finalize that today but still going through a couple of conversations on that,” Boone said. ”I want to get with each guy and let them know where we’re at.”
Boone also hasn’t committed to putting CC Sabathia on the roster. The 39-year-old left-hander, who is retiring after the postseason, made his first regular-season relief appearance during the season’s final week but a second planned bullpen outing was scrapped. Sabathia had four stints on the injured list due to his chronically hurt right knee.
”That’s kind of what we’re deciding on,” Boone said. ”Just making sure he’s good to go, he’s good for this role and can handle it. So that’s one of the things we’re kind of working through today.”
New York’s pitching plans were disrupted twice late in the season. Reliever Dellin Betances tore an Achilles tendon in his first appearance back from a lat injury that had sidelined him since spring training and 18-game winner Domingo German was placed on administrative leave under the sport’s domestic violence policy.
With J.A. Happ able to pitch in relief or start, the Yankees likely will fill three or four bullpen spots from among Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Nestor Cortes Jr., Cory Gearrin, Ben Heller and Stephen Tarpley.
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