CLEARWATER, Fla. — The earliest Gary Sanchez will return from his back problem will be Friday against the Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Out since Saturday with what the catcher described as tightness in his middle and lower back, Sanchez didn’t hit outside for the third straight day on Monday. Aaron Boone said Sanchez won’t play against the Blue Jays on Tuesday and won’t make the trip to Florida’s East Coast where the Yankees face the Marlins on Wednesday and Cardinals on Thursday.

“He’ll probably hit [Tuesday]. I decided to hold off [playing Tuesday] because we are going across the state the next two days and I didn’t want to rush him back into games,’’ Boone said before the Phillies beat the Yankees, 3-1, on Monday at Spectrum Field. “He will stay [in Tampa] and catch [Adam] Ottavino and maybe some other guys on Wednesday, get live [at-bats] on Thursday and the plan is to be in the lineup on Friday.’’

Ever since Sanchez’s back became an issue after catching back-to-back games last Thursday and Friday, Boone has said he wasn’t worried his No. 1 catcher had anything more than tightness. That didn’t change Monday.

Gary Sanchez
Gary SanchezCharles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“I’m not concerned. I feel like if we were playing [a real game] he would be playing [Monday],’’ Boone said.

As for who backs up Sanchez, Kyle Higashioka entered spring training as the overwhelming favorite and nothing has changed despite veterans Josh Thole, Erik Kratz and Chris Iannetta in camp on minor league deals and having a lot more big league experience than the 29-year-old Higashioka, who has appeared in 56 major league games.

Not only does Higashioka have the backing of the front office for his defense, he is on the 40-man roster.

“Higgy, who is on our roster, he has earned this spot, this opportunity,’’ Boone said of Higashioka, who is a career .164 hitter. “I and we have a lot of confidence in him. Somebody has to take that [job away]. He has put himself in a really good position.’’

Returning to the Yankees wasn’t an option for shortstop Didi Gregorius, who signed a one-year deal worth $14 million with the Phillies. His new team hopes he can have a bounce-back year following a fractured 2019 when he didn’t return from Tommy John surgery until June 7 and played in only 82 games.

“[The Yankees] gave me an opportunity to play every day and I turned into a better player,’’ said the 30-year-old Gregorius, who handled the task of replacing Derek Jeter without a hitch until elbow surgery following the 2018 postseason. In five seasons with the Yankees, Gregorius hit .269 with 97 homers and 360 RBIs, posted a .759 OPS in 660 games and provided Gold Glove-caliber defense.

The Yankees believed Gregorius could be replaced by Gleyber Torres moving from second to short, but in nine exhibition games Torres has committed four errors.

MLB and the Players Association are attempting to do what is best when it comes to the coronavirus.

“I think everybody is trying to work on both ends to come together to figure out the best way to go about this,’’ Yankees lefty J.A. Happ said Monday. “Potentially a scary thing. Other than that, as far as doing due diligence to try and figure out the best way to go about it I don’t have any other comment.’’

Joe Girardi and Boone chatted during the Phillies’ batting practice prior to Monday’s game.

“Good conversation, good to see Joe. It was nice catching up, talking about things in the game,’’ Boone said of the man he replaced as the Yankees’ manager following the 2017 season. “It’s good to see him in uniform.’’

Boone turned 47 on Monday and planned a celebration with family and friends on Clearwater Beach.

Before anybody gets lathered up about Aroldis Chapman’s fastball being clocked at 90 mph in the fifth inning of Monday’s game against the Phillies, relax. According to a scout in the stands, that reading was bogus. The scout said Chapman’s fastball was 93-96 mph in his second spring outing.

Clint Frazier wasn’t the only outfielder who had trouble with fly balls to left. Frazier lost Bryce Harper’s opposite-field fly ball in a glaring sun that was mixed with wind. The ball, catchable under normal conditions, dropped on the warning track for a third-inning double. “They call it the Sunshine State for a reason,’’ said Frazier, who drove in the Yankees’ only run of the game with a single.

Mike King entered camp a candidate for the fifth starter’s spot despite having pitched in just two big-league innings. The right-hander didn’t help himself Monday when he gave up two runs and four hits, one of which was a homer, and walked one in 2 ²/₃ innings. According to a scout, King’s velocity was 93-96 mph in the first inning, 90-92 in the second and 89-91 in the third.

Gerrit Cole makes his fourth start of the spring Tuesday against the Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field. Following the game, the Yankees leave for two games on the East Coast with the Marlins and Cardinals.