Notes: Hicks ready; Estrada eyes roster spot

Tanaka nearing return; Chapman up in air for Opening Day

July 19th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Even as  tracked the flight of his drive off the Astros’ Justin Verlander in Game 5 of last year’s American League Championship Series, dropping his bat and waiting for the ball to strike the foul pole in right field, the Yankees outfielder knew that he was playing on borrowed time.

Hicks' ailing right elbow required Tommy John surgery, and when he underwent the procedure 12 days after that big swing, he had his sights set upon a midseason return to the Bombers’ lineup. Being ready for Opening Day was not even considered a distant possibility, though as Summer Camp concludes, it appears that is exactly what will happen.

“You always want to be able to be the guy that makes Opening Day,” Hicks said on Sunday. “I’m kind of just blessed to be able to have the opportunity to still make Opening Day and not miss a single game. That’s kind of what's exciting about this whole situation for me.”

To date, the only player to undergo Tommy John surgery and return to Major League action without missing a single regular-season game was infielder Tony Womack, who underwent the procedure as a member of the Cubs on Oct. 6, 2013. Womack was at second base for the Cardinals on Opening Day in '04.

“It feels good right now,” said Hicks, a switch-hitter who throws right-handed. “You don't really fully feel 100 percent -- they say it takes like a year to fully feel back to normal again -- but I feel really, really good. The ball has been coming out really well this past week. I feel like I've been able to get a lot more carry on my ball, especially throwing to home [plate].”

Hicks said that, for the most part, he has been able to eliminate any hesitation that he might have exhibited before uncorking throws last year.

“There is something in the back of my head that still has that memory of what it felt like when I used to really let it go, especially during the postseason when I felt that pain,” Hicks said. “I really haven't thought about it in a while. When a game situation comes up, I'm going to just do it organically and see how it goes.”

The 30-year-old, who batted .235/.325/.443 (103 OPS+) with 12 homers and 36 RBIs in 59 games last season, is still tinkering with his right-handed swing. That is Hicks’ natural side, but thus far J.A. Happ, James Paxton and Jordan Montgomery have been the only left-handed pitchers Hicks has faced during Summer Camp.

“I still feel like I'm a little bit behind against lefties,” Hicks said. “You want to see guys that kind of sling the ball, you want to see different stuff. I just feel like I'm a little behind the curve as far as my right-handed swing, but left-handed swing, I feel good.”

Boy of ‘Summer’
Thairo Estrada’s ninth-inning RBI single to center field represented a footnote in the Yankees’ 9-3 victory over the Mets on Saturday at Citi Field, but it came as no surprise to manager Aaron Boone, who has lauded the 24-year-old infielder as the “MVP of Summer Camp.”

Estrada has showcased a live bat since the team resumed workouts in early July, belting three homers in intrasquad play to bolster his bid to crack the Yanks’ Opening Day roster. Boone has listed Estrada, Matt Duffy and Tyler Wade as the contenders to start at second base if DJ LeMahieu is not available.

“Versatility is certainly one of the things that's very appealing about Thairo,” Boone said, noting Estrada's ability to play three infield positions and the outfield. “He did a good job with the bat last year. I feel like he's even better this year, and I just love the makeup of the person. There’s a lot of things that Thairo brings to the table, and his performance has been outstanding. Add all those things up and he's very much in play.”

Comeback trail
• Luis Cessa rejoined the Yankees on Sunday afternoon, playing catch in the Yankee Stadium outfield. The right-hander tested positive for COVID-19 prior to Summer Camp, but Boone said that Cessa is feeling “great.” Cessa is scheduled to toss from the bullpen mound on Monday.

• Masahiro Tanaka threw in the bullpen on Sunday, the right-hander’s second time doing so since sustaining a concussion on July 4. Boone said that everything went well for Tanaka, who could be cleared to face hitters on Tuesday.

• Though Aroldis Chapman recently posted several workout videos on his Instagram story, Boone said that it “seems ambitious” for the left-hander to rejoin the Yankees in time for Opening Day. Chapman will need to have two negative COVID-19 tests at least 24 hours apart before being cleared to play.

• Boone said that infielder Gio Urshela reported no further issues after he was hit in the groin by a batted ball during pregame workouts on Friday at Citi Field. Urshela played in Friday’s game, going 0-for-3 with seven innings in the field, and had been scheduled to rest on Saturday.

Up next
The Yankees will conclude the exhibition portion of Summer Camp on Monday, hosting the Phillies at 6:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Deivi García is scheduled to start for New York, with veteran righty Jake Arrieta on the mound for manager Joe Girardi’s Phillies. Watch live on MLB.TV and MLB Network.