NEW YORK – All Yankees left fielder Joey Gallo did last Saturday in Kansas City was run hard from first base to second on a steal attempt. The 6-foot-6 slugger is a well-conditioned professional athlete and this is all it took for left groin discomfort to crop up.
An inning later, Gallo was out of the game and presumably headed to the injured list for a bunch of missed games.
Not so fast. This isn’t 2019… or 2020… or 2021.
Gallo sat out Sunday’s series finale in Kansas City, then the next two games in Toronto, the last only as a precaution, By Wednesday night, Gallo was back playing and homered on the first pitch of his first at-bat for the only run in a Yankees’ 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays that ended their winning streak at 11 games.
If this was another year, Gallo probably would have missed a month or more because, well, that’s how it was on the injury front for the Yankees three seasons in a row.
Not this year. Heading into Sunday’s doubleheader against the Texas Rangers, the Yankees had a best-in-baseball 18-7 record with no in-season injuries.
Maybe it’s overdue good luck, or maybe season three of Eric Cressey heading the Yankees’ strength and development is paying off.
Whatever it is, the Yankees’ injuries have been way down.
“I think it’s probably a combination of that,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I definitely think we’re on higher ground as far our training and strength and conditioning evaluations, and what we have in place and how we get guys ready and the players themselves attention to how they get ready and knowing what they need to do to keep their bodies healthy.
“And then you always got to have some good fortune, too, good luck on your side.”
The Yankees have had to deal with more than their share of bad luck in previous seasons – Aaron Judge’s broken wrist on a hit by pitch in 2018 comes to mind – but the medical staff and trainers perhaps had a little or a lot to do with several sidelined players suffering worst injuries while rehabbing.
When the Yankees set an MLB record in 2019 sending 30 players to the injured list for 39 stints, GM Brian Cashman responded by overturning the strength and conditioning staff. His trumpeted hire was bringing in Cressey, who has a side job running the highly respected Cressey Sports Performance, which is frequented every offseason by many major leaguers at its facilities in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., And Hudson, Mass.
Cashman warned that switching to Cressey may not cut down on injuries for the first year, and he was right. During the COVID-shortened 60-game season in 2020, the Yankees sent another 16 pitchers to the IL for a total of 18 stints, three of them for COVID.
Last year was supposed to be the year the injuries dropped, but the Yankees blew away their old record sending 35 players to the IL for 49 stints. Fourteen stints were for positive COVID tests, but the other 35 were injuries, and that’s a very big number.
It’s impossible to notice how big of a change for the good it’s been so far this year.
A month into the season, every pitcher who started the season on a staff that has the lowest ERA in the American League has stayed healthy.
When is the last time they pulled that off? Let’s just take an educated guess and says it’s been a long time.
And other than Gallo sitting out three games, all of the Yankees’ position players have been available every day, Giancarlo Stanton and Judge included.
The Yankees’ injured list has been the same since Opening Day – pitchers Domingo German, Stephen Ridings and Zack Britton, and catcher Ben Rortvedt. Of those, only one of them likely would be on their 26-man roster if healthy today: Britton, who had Tommy John surgery last fall and likely will miss most or all of the 2022 season.
German had a good shot to be on the expanded 28-man season-opening roster until showing up to spring training with a shoulder impingement syndrome that has him on the 60-day IL. But when healthy, he’ll probably be optioned to Triple-A if the Yankees’ other pitchers stay off the IL because the Dominican righty now is below Jordan Montgomery and Nestor Cortes on the rotation depth chart and behind Michael King for a middle relief spot .
Here’s one thing to keep an eye on:
The Yankees were relatively healthy last year through April, then sent nine players to the IL in May, and this rash of bad health involved key personnel: Aaron Hicks (season-ending wrist injury), Corey Kluber (one start after his one-hitter ), Gleyber Torres and Stanton, among others.
It’s coming up on a year since Stanton was sidelined with a quad strain, and that was a “here we go again” moment. But he was back playing by May 28, then stayed healthy for the rest of the season and put up good production after playing only 41 of 222 games (18%) in 2019-20.
Judge also stayed on the field last year, as he appeared in 143 games after playing only 242 of 384 (63%) from 2018-20. He dealt with some nagging issues, especially early on when he missed two April games in a row, But the only other time he sat out more than one game in a row was when he missed nine straight in July after testing positive for COVID.
Being able to make the bell, Judge also had a standout season.
Both mashers have been good to go throughout the early going this year, too, as each appeared in 24 of the Yankees’ first 25 games. Both usually are very productive when healthy, and that’s been the case thus far. Through Friday, Judge was tied for the AL lead with nine homers, tied for fourth with 19 RBI and tied for 14th with a .293 average. Stanton was tied for 10th with 14 RBI while hitting .266 with five homers.
This is not all luck health wise for Judge and Stanton, their manager suggested.
“I think they continue to evolve,” Boone said. “I think they continue to know who they are, what things work and do not work for them. I think you get better out of necessity on how to take care of yourself and how to prepare yourself, coupled with trying to be also on the cutting edge of how do we maximize this. They say the best ability is availability, and I think they understand that. ”
Boone is playing a role, too. While everyone is healthy, he wants them all getting rest days with hopes that time off now will help prevent a drop in production later in the season or come playoff time.
With the Yankees having 11 position players for nine spots counting DJ LeMahieu rotating in the infield plus Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino splitting time at catcher, they’ve all been out of the starting lineup at least twice thus far.
“We’re trying to be smart with how we use guys and the volume,” Boone said. “I’ve really felt like if we’re able to stay healthy by getting the guys an occasional day off strategically, it can also be beneficial.”
YANKEES INJURED LIST
2019: 30 players, 39 stints
2020: 16 players, 18 stints (including 3 for COVID)
2021: 35 players, 49 stints (including 14 for COVID)
2022: x-4 players, 4 stints
x-through May 7.
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Randy Miller may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.