TAMPA — Welcome to Camp Big Hurt where it seems everybody is one awkward body movement away from an injury that leads to the Carl Pavano Memorial MRI tube and shuts them down.
When Giancarlo Stanton slid out of the machine Wednesday he was diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain of the right calf. Stanton, who wasn’t included in the batting practice groups before the day’s Yankees-Nationals game at George M. Steinbrenner Field, suffered the injury near the end of Tuesday’s fielding practice.
“He basically has a Grade 1 calf strain,’’ manager Aaron Boone said following an 8-2 Yankees win in a game shortened to 4 ½ innings because of rain. “He will be down for a little bit.’’
And possibly in jeopardy of opening the season on the injured list, where he spent a big chunk of last year due to a left biceps strain, a left calf strain and a right knee sprain that limited him to 18 regular-season games.
With 28 days before the Yankees open the season in Baltimore, the question whether Stanton will be ready to play at Camden Yards on March 26 is legitimate.
“It will probably put us up against it a little bit. I would say [there] is time for him to get back, but then getting built up and stuff, we will see,’’ said Boone, who added Stanton would be inactive for two weeks.
After playing in 158 games, hitting 38 homers and driving in 100 runs in 2018, his first season with the Yankees, Stanton’s second year was a disaster. Because one injury bled into another, it seems possible the same scenario could develop this season.
While Stanton has an opt-out clause in his contract, not many expect him to leave $218 million from 2021-27, with a buyout for 2028, on the table to seek another deal that would be better than the $27.25 million he would average including the buyout. Prolonged absences with injuries this season would certainly keep him in pinstripes.
The news on the 30-year-old Stanton arrived a day after the Yankees announced right-hander Luis Severino would undergo Tommy John surgery, be out for the entire season and miss a part of the 2021 schedule. Aaron Judge hasn’t taken batting practice on the field yet due to a right shoulder issue that surfaced before camp opened and lefty starter James Paxton underwent lower back surgery on Feb. 5 that is expected to keep him out until sometime in May.
“It’s disappointing because you want to get guys built up, but it is just a bump in the road and we are equipped to handle it,’’ Boone said of the injuries to the biggest names on the roster that is also without center fielder Aaron Hicks, who is expected to be shelved at least until June after having Tommy John surgery following last season.
Entering camp, Stanton was viewed as a left fielder/DH, which means the Yankees could be looking for an outfielder from outside the organization toward the end of spring training if they don’t believe in-house candidates are sufficient. Left-handed hitting Mike Tauchman was a fourth outfielder at the beginning of camp and moves up a notch, especially against right-handed pitchers. If Stanton isn’t ready, Clint Frazier is a possibility of making the 26-man roster out of spring training. Miguel Andujar started in left field Wednesday but he could fill the DH hole if he doesn’t beat Gio Urshela out at third base.
“It was a concern [Tuesday]. I don’t think he thought it was that big of a deal and came in [Wednesday morning] and felt better but we sent him just to be safe after Doctor [Daniel] Murphy examined him and everything and showed the strain,’’ Boone said. “So it is going to be a couple of weeks.’’
There are three grades of calf strains. Grade 1 is considered mild, Grade 2 is moderate to severe and Grade 3 is a complete rupture.
Because the injury could have been worse, the Yankees and Stanton avoided a more serious problem. Yet, as was the case last year when injuries shadowed the powerfully built 6-foot-6, 245-pound slugger all season, even the lowest grade strain could be a window to more problems.