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Changing with times? Yanks could use opener

Boone: 'I could see it being something we consider from time to time'
@BryanHoch
March 6, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees have experienced the growing spread of the opener strategy from the opposing dugout, including in last year's American League Wild Card Game, when the Athletics employed it by handing the ball to reliever Liam Hendriks for the first three outs. Aaron Judge blasted a two-run

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees have experienced the growing spread of the opener strategy from the opposing dugout, including in last year's American League Wild Card Game, when the Athletics employed it by handing the ball to reliever Liam Hendriks for the first three outs.

Aaron Judge blasted a two-run homer off Hendriks, but the A's felt that it was their best chance to upset the Bombers as they attempted to overcome several injuries. With Luis Severino (right rotator cuff inflammation) and CC Sabathia (rehab from right knee surgery, angioplasty) now both expected to begin the year on the injured list, the Yankees could be next.

"I could see it being something we consider from time to time," manager Aaron Boone said after the Yankees' 9-5 Grapefruit League loss to the Cardinals. "I don't see it a lot, but I could see it coming into play on certain occasions. There's so many things that for us would go into that."

For example, Boone suggested that he could use one of his elite relievers -- Chad Green, perhaps -- to start, then hand the ball off to a long man like Luis Cessa for at least the next nine outs, avoiding a stacked top of the batting order.

Utilizing that strategy could allow the Yankees to offer an additional day of rest to a starting pitcher, particularly in a long stretch of games without an off-day.

"I think when we're healthy and right, obviously I don't see it much, but I think there are some days where you could see it," Boone said.

Boone confident in rotation depth

Johnny on the spot

Jonathan Loaisiga's chances of cracking the Opening Day roster have improved markedly in the last two days, as the Yankees now say that they could carry Loaisiga and Domingo Germán as starters to begin the season. Starting against the Cardinals on Wednesday, Loaisiga was sharp early but appeared to fatigue.

The 24-year-old righty allowed four runs and three hits in 2 1/3 innings, striking out five against two walks. He worked a perfect first inning with two strikeouts, serving up a Tyler O'Neill home run to start the second. Loaisiga faced four men in the third, surrendering one-out doubles to Kolten Wong and Jose Martinez, then issued a walk before exiting.

"I felt pretty good today out there," Loaisiga said through an interpreter. "I did allow some runs, but on the positive side, I felt for the most part I was able to get ahead in the count and attack the hitters. I felt that I was effective doing that."

Loaisiga, who is ranked the club's No. 2 prospect, jumped from Double-A to the Majors last summer, posting a 5.11 ERA in nine appearances (24 2/3 innings) over two stints. He was 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in four starts, including taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning on June 25 at Philadelphia.

"[I learned] how good the hitters are up here in this level," Loaisiga said. "Sometimes you feel that you're executing a really good pitch and yet they're taking those pitches. That tells you how smart and how talented they are. I think that's one of the things that impressed me the most."

On the mend

Sidelined due to plantar fasciitis, Jacoby Ellsbury has spent the entirety of his spring working out at the EXOS Athletes' Performance in Phoenix. That is set to change, according to general manager Brian Cashman, who said that Ellsbury is expected to report to Steinbrenner Field on March 16 or 17.

"He's progressing out there," Cashman said. "He's running on flat ground. He's off of the Alter G [treadmill]. The game plan to leave him out there to get finished off was a smart play."

Ellsbury remains unlikely to be available for Opening Day. The 35-year-old has not played in a big league game since October 2017, having sustained various injuries early last year before requiring surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip last August.

The Hicks fix

Aaron Hicks (lower back tightness) could sit out the rest of the week, according Cashman, who indicated that the center fielder's injury has not registered as a serious concern.

"It's just a waiting game. This time of year, we'll give it the time that it needs," Cashman said. "If he needs to take the rest of the week off, we just want to make sure it gets out of the way so he can play. Thankfully, this time of year gives us the time frame."

Bombers bits

• The Yankees made their first roster cuts of the spring on Wednesday. Right-hander Domingo Acevedo was optioned to Double-A Trenton, and right-handers Brady Lail and Trevor Stephan were re-assigned to Minor League camp.

• Right-hander Michael King is scheduled to have an MRI later this week. The 23-year-old, a non-roster invitee to camp, has been shut down since mid-February due to a stress reaction in his right elbow.

Up next

The Yankees will board the buses on Thursday, visiting the Phillies for a 1:05 p.m. ET contest in Clearwater, Fla. Left-hander James Paxton is scheduled to start for New York, and fans can catch the action live on MLB.TV.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.