LAKELAND, Fla. -- As Aaron Hicks watched the flight of his drive off Justin Verlander in Game 5 of last year’s American League Championship Series, tracking the ball as it clanged off the foul pole for a three-run homer that helped extend the season for another day, the Yankees outfielder had already made his call regarding Tommy John surgery.
Hicks’ decision was kept within the clubhouse walls at that time, though after the ALCS, he revealed that Dodgers team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache had recommended surgery to repair a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in Hicks' right elbow. Hicks agreed and underwent the procedure on Oct. 30.
“I always knew it needed surgery, but the more stuff you put in the media, the more opportunities [teams] have to run on you,” Hicks said. “I definitely didn't want that to happen. It was a decision I made that I was going to try to play through the injury, to try to help my team win, knowing what the outcome was going to be.”
Hicks’ final regular-season game was on Aug. 3, but he rehabbed and played in five of the six ALCS games against the Astros. Asked how, Hicks chuckled and said, “Pain meds, for starters.”
“I wanted to play so bad, and you never know when your next opportunity is to play in the postseason,” Hicks continued. “Something was already done to [my elbow], so I might as well go out there and try to help my team win. I felt like that's what I wanted to do. If the team didn't want me back, then I would have just gotten surgery and been done with it.”
Hicks’ season debut last year was delayed by a lower back strain, which placed him at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, Fla., for several weeks of Didi Gregorius’ rehab and recovery from Tommy John surgery. Gregorius returned to the big league lineup in June, and the Yankees have outlined a window of June-August for Hicks’ expected return this summer.
“It's been pretty boring, to tell you the truth,” Hicks said. “I just go the gym, work out and then go get [physical therapy]. Right now, we're starting to get ready to throw. … There are always setbacks with Tommy John, but I think Didi's was just flawless, all the way through. Of course, that's what I want to happen with me. I’m hoping that happens.”
One to watch
Non-roster invitee Rosell Herrera finished 3-for-3 with a two-run double in Sunday's 10-4 loss to the Tigers and owns seven hits through his first 14 at-bats of the spring. Manager Aaron Boone said that the infielder/outfielder is “opening eyes” with his versatility and a solid plate approach.
“I came here to do my best and try to help the team, every position they want to see me,” Herrera said. “I'm very excited to be here. I know the Yankees are the best organization. I feel grateful to be here and I'm trying to do my best.”
The 27-year-old Herrera played in 63 games last season for the Marlins, batting .200/.288/.314 with two homers and 11 RBIs. Herrera appeared at second base, third base and shortstop, plus all three outfield positions with Miami.
“I feel very comfortable,” Herrera said. “Last year, I played a lot of big league games in the outfield, more than in the infield. I'm trying to go out, do my job, respect the game and keep playing the game hard."
In the mix
David Hale permitted two runs and two hits over 1 2/3 innings in Sunday’s start against the Tigers, and Boone said that he could see the non-roster right-hander entering the conversation for the fifth starter vacancy. Hale has pitched to a 2.98 ERA in 23 relief appearances for the Yankees over the last two seasons, and owns 20 career big league starts with the Braves and Rockies.
“We're a little short on paper about specific odds-on candidates, so there's a lot of guys that have pushed themselves into that mix,” Boone said. “Obviously, David's done a really nice job for us the last couple of years in a lot of different roles, so we’ll see.”
On the trip
Anthony Volpe, the Yankees’ first-round selection in last year’s MLB Draft (30th overall), was included on the travel roster for Sunday’s game against the Tigers. He grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning.
"I almost had to pinch myself," said Volpe, the club's No. 9 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. "It was an awesome experience to be around those guys and also the guys that we work with every day. We've been down here for about a month and we've really been putting in a lot of work, so to have these kinds of days is really fun."
Volpe, a right-handed-hitting shortstop from Morristown, N.J., will turn 19 in April and played in 30 games at Rookie-level Pulaski last season.
"I was with my mom and I got a text with my name on the infield roster [for Sunday's game]," Volpe said. "I didn't really believe it, then I got a call asking if I wanted to help out the big league club. I was like, 'Of course!' That was awesome."
James Paxton (recovery from back surgery) is said to be progressing as he ramps up weight-lifting and conditioning, but the Yankees have not set a date for the left-hander to resume throwing. Boone said that he expects that to be “on the horizon” within the next two weeks.
The Yankees have a scheduled off-day on Monday and will return to action on Tuesday, hosting the Red Sox for a 1:05 p.m. ET contest at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to make his second start of the spring in the exhibition, which will be televised on MLB.TV, YES and ESPN.