The Yankees’ outlook got a little better on Friday, when DJ LeMahieu reported to spring training 2.0 following his battle with COVID-19.
The All-Star took grounders on the field at Yankee Stadium and Aaron Boone said he worked out and hit in the batting cage, but the manager added he’s not ready to say whether LeMahieu will be available for Opening Day in Washington on Thursday.
“I don’t want to commit one way or the other,’’ Boone said. “We’ll just welcome him back to the building and see where we are the next couple days.”
The manager added LeMahieu would work out and hit at Yankee Stadium again Saturday and the team had mapped out the next four or five days to help get him live at-bats “probably in the next couple days.”
Boone acknowledged it would be tough for LeMahieu to be ready so soon after missing all of spring training 2.0.
“That would be a pretty quick turnaround, obviously,’’ Boone said. “First and foremost, we want to make sure we bring him back safely and smartly and when he comes back, he’s ready to roll.”
LeMahieu was placed on the injured list before camp officially opened. He’ll get as many live at-bats as possible over the next week to determine whether he’s up to facing ace right-hander Max Scherzer right out of the gate, but the Yankees feel the bigger challenge might be seeing if he’s up to the rigors of playing every day after being out.
“A lot of it is, ‘Where are his legs built up to?” Boone said. “Can he play day-in and day-out nine-inning games. … I don’t worry so much about DJ finding his timing. I’m pretty certain that will come back quick.”
LeMahieu’s approach at the plate gives the Yankees confidence he won’t be impacted as much by the layoff as some others might be.
“It’s an individual thing, but when you’re one of the best in the world at bat-to-ball, you build up quicker,’’ Boone said LeMahieu, whose .893 OPS a year ago was behind only Aaron Judge’s .921 among everyday players in the Yankee lineup.
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Hitting coach Marcus Thames agreed with Boone’s assessment of LeMahieu, with a caveat.
“He’s a baseball rat,’’ Thames said. “He knows his swing and knows what guys are trying to do to him. That part will help him, but he’s still human. He’s got to get some reps.”
LeMahieu wasn’t allowed to be at Yankee Stadium for spring training 2.0 until he tested negative twice. The Yankees have three exhibition games coming up before the regular season begins.
And the Yankees’ primary concern is that the 32-year-old stays healthy.
“We’re gonna take our time and make sure he’s healthy,’’ Thames said. “We don’t want to rush him. DJ worked really hard even when the shutdown [was happening] in Tampa. He was there getting work in. We’ll take it slow and he’ll let us know when he’s ready.”
That’s no easy feat considering the unknowns of the coronavirus.
“We’re learning like the rest of the world and medical industry more and more about this virus and the effects of it,’’ Boone said. “It affects so many different people in so many different ways. I guess it’s some comfort in DJ’s case, even though he continued to test positive, he felt normal throughout.”
For now, Boone is encouraged just having the Yankees’ most consistent hitter around.
“Obviously, everyone is excited to see ‘The Machine’ back in the building,’’ Boone said.