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Every time the Yankees take a step or two toward being closer to full strength, they seem to take a step or three back.
The West Coast road trip that they returned from in the early hours of Monday was a classic example.
Last Monday, the first day of the trip in Seattle, Harrison Bader strained his hamstring, landing him on the injured list the next day.
They also did not have Anthony Rizzo for any of the Mariners series because of a stiff neck. By the time they arrived in Los Angeles for an off day Thursday, they got a boost by activating Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson and Tommy Kahnle off the IL.
But on Saturday, Ryan Weber and Greg Allen were placed on the IL for injuries they sustained in Friday’s game.
Then came the double gut-punch Sunday, with the news Nestor Cortes is likely headed for the IL because of a shoulder issue and Aaron Judge possibly joining him, depending on what a battery of tests Monday reveal about his sore right big toe.
And yet, while the Yankees were left holding their breath on Monday for both Judge and Cortes, they did so while sitting 11 games above .500, matching their high watermark for the season.
“Some winning things are happening, which is good,” manager Aaron Boone said Sunday night before the Yankees flew home for an off day. “Look, it doesn’t mean everyone’s hot or everyone’s doing great. Some guys are struggling. But when you do things that help you win games, that’s what it’s about. I feel like a lot of those things are happening and it’s just a credit to them.
“Walk in the building with an edge, prepare your butt off and go compete. And rinse and repeat. They are doing that at a really high level. Win or lose, we’re hooked up on that bench and ready to go.”
That mindset might be put to the test even more in the coming weeks, depending on the results of the tests that Judge and Cortes were set to undergo Monday.
It was notable that Judge, who is typically guarded and intentional with his answers, did not rule out the potential of needing an IL stint for his toe when asked about it Sunday night.
He was also said it was “tough to say” whether it felt like he had a broken toe.
“If I’m on it, I’m on it,” Judge said of the IL. “But I’m trying not to be.”
Judge already spent 10 games on the IL earlier this season with a hip strain, with the Yankees going 4-6 in his absence.
Since he came back, he had turned on the jets and put together an MVP-like month, with the Yankees going 17-8 upon his return.
If Judge does need another trip to the IL, the Yankees would at least have Stanton and Donaldson back in their lineup, unlike the last time.
They could certainly use DJ LeMahieu snapping out his current funk, which has sunk to 9-for-59 with 18 strikeouts over his last 15 games, though the Yankees insist he is healthy.
Specifically in right field, they would also need to keep getting contributions from the likes of Jake Bauers, Willie Calhoun and Oswaldo Cabrera, who was optioned to Triple-A on Wednesday night but was back with the Yankees by Saturday because of Allen’s injury.
Cabrera made an immediate contribution in both games, homering on Saturday and delivering a go-ahead groundout in the eighth inning of Sunday’s win.
“[There’s] a great mindset with everybody that gets called up and put in that opportunity to shine,” Judge said. “Speaking specifically of Cabrera, coming up, [after] two long flights, all of a sudden he hits a homer the first game he’s back and … playing wherever he needs to.
“Everybody has a good mindset and they’re ready for the role when they get it.”