NEW YORK – Aaron Hicks returned to Phoenix, unable to throw without pain, advised to rest his aching elbow on Sept. 11 by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, an orthopedic specialist in California. The season appeared to be over for the New York Yankees outfielder.
Being told you might have to get Tommy John,” he said, “that’s like the low of the low. That’s like the worst thing to hear.”
Then, a short time later, Hicks was surprised.
“I was just messing around in the backyard. One of my buddies wanted to hit in the cage and I was just kind of setting things up for him to kind of hit around and I was like, man, my arm kind of feels good right now,” Hicks said. “I just started playing a little light catch.”
Sidelined since Aug. 3 because of a flexor injury near his right elbow, Hicks had someone take a video of him throwing and sent it to Michael Schuk, the Yankees’ assistant athletic trainer. After some questions, Shuck passed it along to Steve Donohue, the Yankees’ head athletic trainer.
“I remember Stevie Donohue calling me and saying, ‘He actually looks pretty good. What do you want to do with this?” general manager Brian Cashman recalled. “I said, well, if he’s up for it, let’s get him back to Tampa and see where it takes us.”
Hicks returned to the Yankees’ minor league complex in late September and now he may be restored to the active roster for the AL Championship Series, which starts Saturday. He worked out at Yankee Stadium with his teammates on Thursday, hoping to persuade manager Aaron Boone, the coaches and front office he was ready.
“We’re going to get our eyes on you, run you through the car, and you need to be get mentally prepared for being healthy but not active, being healthy and a bench player or being healthy and a starter,” Cashman told him.
New York also must decide whether to activate 39-year-old left-hander CC Sabathia, who missed the Division Series sweep of Minnesota because of a sore pitching shoulder.
“We’ll have some tough decisions here over the next 24 hours as we work this out, what kind of makes the most sense,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Thursday.
Hicks began the season on the injured list after hurting his back early in spring training and didn’t play his first game until May 15. In the first season of a $70 million, seven-year contract, the 30-year-old switch-hitter is batting .235 with 12 homers and 36 RBIs in 59 games.
New York used the same starting lineup in all three games against Minnesota, only the second time this year Boone has done that in three straight games.
If Hicks starts in center, Brett Gardner could shift to left and Giancarlo Stanton to designated hitter, a move that would send Edwin Encarnacion to the bench. For a more offensive and less defensive lineup, Encarnacion could move to first, DJ LeMahieu from first to third and Gio Urshela to the bench.
Or Stanton could remain in left and Gardner shift to the bench, especially against a left-handed starter.
Hicks’ lack of playing time the last two months is a factor. Adding Hicks could cause Cameron Maybin or Tyler Wade to be dropped from the 25-man roster.
“The good thing is that he’s put himself in this position to make a decision,” Boone said. “Obviously as good a player as he is, that’s exciting.”
Sabathia, who is retiring after the season, was replaced in the Division Series by Tyler Lyons, who pitched a perfect inning in Game 2. Sabathia threw a bullpen session Wednesday.
“He was out there stretching today now and will play catch and everything,” Boone said. “Just talking to him when he came in, said he felt good. So far encouraging.”
Sabathia and Gardner are the only Yankees left from the last World Series championship team in 2009.
“I think his experience is going to be huge for us,” reliever Zack Britton said. “I know that he’s our biggest fan when he’s not out there, but just for us I think it’d be great to see him out there.”
AP freelance writer Scott Orgera contributed to this report.
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