When Aaron Boone got past the first four spots in the lineup, it was apparent Aaron Hicks wasn’t starting Monday night’s game against the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
Hicks left the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader sweep of the Mets due to cramps in each calf. However, Boone said that wasn’t why the switch-hitting center fielder was held out of Monday’s lineup.
“He is good to go and playing the doubleheader he was going to have one of these next several days off so just felt like coming out of the doubleheader and coming out of the cramping I felt like it was today,’’ said Boone, who used Hicks as a pinch hitter in a 5-3 loss and watched him beat the shift with a single in the ninth inning.
When discussing Hicks, his injury history can’t be ignored. Since 2013, when he was with the Twins, Hicks has been on the injured list 11 times. It would have been 12 had the season started on time in March since Hicks was coming back from Tommy John surgery after last season.
Brett Gardner started in center field Monday night, Mike Tauchman was in left and Clint Frazier in right.
Hicks had a colossal three-run homer in the seventh inning of the first game on Sunday that tied the score, 7-7, but the first 32 games of the 60-game schedule haven’t been good.
Appearing in 29 games, Hicks is hitting .209 (19-for-87) with three homers, 10 RBIs and a .790 OPS.
While Hicks has struggled he has company in Gardner, who is hitting .169 (12-for-71) after going 0-for-3 with a walk Monday night. In his last 15 games, Gardner is hitting .135 (5-for-37).
The last time Zack Britton was on the mound he didn’t look like one of baseball’s premier relievers, but that is what Boone expects of the lefty when he comes off the IL.
“Obviously getting Britton back, obviously he is one of the best relievers in the game,’’ Boone said of the lefty who last pitched on Aug. 19 when he suffered a hamstring problem covering first base in his second inning of work. In two-thirds of an inning Britton that day allowed two runs (one earned, thanks to his error), two hits and issued a walk. “To add him to the mix will be really important for us.’’
This past weekend GM Brian Cashman admitted he was in the market for pitching as Monday’s trade deadline approached. Cashman walked away from the 4 p.m. deadline without making a deal but a healthy Britton is expected to improve a bullpen that struggled before improving in Sunday’s doubleheader sweep.
Prior to those games, Adam Ottavino, Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green (two) combined to flush four save chances which led to three losses. In Sunday’s nightcap Green recorded the final three outs — all strikeouts — with a runner in scoring position of an 8-7 victory.
In 10 games this season Britton is 8-for-8 in save chances and has a 2.00 ERA. Despite being out Britton was third in saves among AL pitchers going into Monday night’s schedule.
Boone said he was headed to a meeting to talk about Britton’s re-entry.
“It looks like he is ready to come off. He threw a bullpen [Sunday] so it will probably be in the next couple of days,’’ Boone said.
According to Boone, backup catcher Kyle Higashioka could “possibly’’ come off the IL Tuesday. Higashioka has been on the shelf since Aug. 8 due to a strained right oblique. With the rosters at 28 the Yankees could hang onto Erik Kratz and carry three catchers.
Masahiro Tanaka acknowledged that every game in a 60-game season is important, but with 28 games remaining and the Yankees trailing the AL East-leading Rays by 4 ½ lengths, he understands the importance of the series.
“We need to play good baseball against everybody but going into [Monday night] it is really important. We haven’t played well particularly against these guys this year,’’ said Tanaka, who starts Tuesday night. “We need to have a strong series here.’’
Helping that cause would Tanaka being able to go deeper in the game than he did in the prior outing against the Braves on Aug. 26 when he felt fatigue after throwing just 66 pitches and not allowing a run in five innings of a 2-1 loss.
“For me it is trying to get the number of pitches up,’’ Tanaka said. “Hopefully I can get those numbers up and going strong into the playoffs.’’
Right-hander Miguel Yajure’s major league debut wasn’t as solid as Deivi Garcia’s on Sunday, but Yajure gave the Yankees a chance to come back with three scoreless innings of relief Monday night.
Working the final three frames Yajure walked three and struck out two. He is the sixth Yankee to make his major league debut this year and according to YES the first player in MLB history to wear No. 89.
Jordy Mercer admitted the Yankees’ history appealed to him when he was talking to teams after being let go by the Tigers. The veteran shortstop also believed there was a chance to play.
“I feel like this was the best fit for me,’’ said Mercer, who signed a minor league contract on Aug. 17 and reported to the alternate site in Scranton. “I knew the infield depth wasn’t as good so we felt the fit. I could play multiple positions and bounce around. We felt the fit would be the best if I came here.’’
Mercer, 34, is in his 10th big-league season and has played for the Pirates and Tigers. His last game for Detroit was Aug. 2.
He was elevated from the alternate site on Friday and Monday night against the Rays was his fourth start at short.
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