Thursday was a day to forget for the Yankees.
Before a game against the rival Tampa Bay Rays, Zack Britton, a key reliever, became the 10th Yankee to spend time on the injured list this season. Then shortstop Gleyber Torres exited the game early with a tight left hamstring. After the game, Yankees Manager Aaron Boone revealed that Torres wasn’t the only one who would undergo a magnetic resonance imaging examination. James Paxton, that day’s starter, would join him because of discomfort in his forearm and elbow, a red flag for a pitcher.
The game itself was more of the same for the Yankees (16-9) against the Rays (17-9) this season: a 10-5 loss in which the Rays improved to 6-1 against them and moved half a game ahead to seize first place in the American League East. And soon after the final out, Major League Baseball announced that the Yankees’ game at Citi Field on Friday was postponed because of two positive coronavirus cases on the Mets.
“Adversity, we know, is inevitable and it’s going to come in different ways and unexpected ways,” Boone said of all of the injuries, but he might as well have been describing the entire season being staged amid a pandemic. “And certainly in 2020, it’s been a lot of unexpected ways.”
Thanks to their depth and deep pockets, the Yankees overcame a major-league-record 30 players spending time on the injured list last season to win 103 regular-season games and reach the American League Championship Series. Although the impact of an overhauled health and performance staff takes time to manifest itself, the Yankees’ injury trend has continued into this abbreviated 60-game season, and at a higher rate.
“It’s a part of the game, but it’s crazy it’s happening again,” said Yankees first baseman Luke Voit, who smashed his team-leading 10th home run on Thursday. It was his fifth blast in four games.
Since Aug. 9, the Yankees have placed four of their best players — outfielders Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring strain) and Aaron Judge (calf strain), infielder D.J. LeMahieu (thumb sprain) and Britton (hamstring strain) — on the I.L. While Stanton and LeMahieu are expected to be out for several more weeks, Judge may return as soon as Saturday.
Still, most of those key players were not available to help the Yankees avoid their first sweep of the season, which was also the first time they were swept at home in a three-game series since Cleveland did it in August 2017. The Rays had not swept the Yankees at Yankee Stadium since 2014.
“We play them three more times and there’s plenty of season left, so I’m not really worried,” said Yankees reliever Adam Ottavino, who surrendered the game-tying run to the Rays in the sixth inning on Thursday before they pulled away for good. He added, “But a little frustrating to get thoroughly beat like that.”
Britton is a stout reliever in a Yankees’ bullpen that was somewhat weakened by Tommy Kahnle’s season-ending elbow surgery this month. Britton was on the mound when the Rays took the lead in the Yankees’ 4-2 loss on Wednesday. He felt tightness in his hamstring and had an M.R.I. on Thursday morning.
Later in the day, Torres left the game after he stumbled running to first base on a ground out. Boone said Torres was receiving treatment after the game, and they believed it was not serious. But the Yankees were cautious with Judge’s mild injury, placing him on the I.L. despite his pleas against it.
The Yankees thought Paxton was gradually improving from his slow start to the season, which both sides attributed to his pre-season preparation being interrupted by back surgery in February. He said this week that he felt confident he was improving his out-of-whack mechanics and slower velocity.
Against the Rays on Thursday, Paxton started out well but wavered in his later innings. Boone and catcher Erik Kratz noticed Paxton flexing his arm. Boone said Paxton told him that the area around his elbow and forearm felt “a little tight” as he exited after five innings.
As the Yankees await Paxton’s and Torres’s test results, they will have more time to reshuffle their roster. It was unclear how much of the Yankees’ and Mets’ three-game series would be played this weekend. Because of a Covid-19 outbreak on the Miami Marlins, the Yankees saw their schedule disrupted late last month and had to make up three games against the Philadelphia Phillies two weeks ago.
“It’s difficult and 2020 is like no other year,” Boone said. “In a way, we know what we’ve signed up for and we knew at times there was going to be challenges.”