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Yanks see more from Morales than stats show

@BryanHoch
May 15, 2019

NEW YORK -- The Yankees envision regular at-bats in the designated hitter role for veteran switch-hitter Kendrys Morales, who was acquired from the Athletics on Tuesday evening in exchange for cash considerations or a player to be named. Morales flew north from his Miami home and was activated for the

NEW YORK -- The Yankees envision regular at-bats in the designated hitter role for veteran switch-hitter Kendrys Morales, who was acquired from the Athletics on Tuesday evening in exchange for cash considerations or a player to be named.

Morales flew north from his Miami home and was activated for the second game of Wednesday's doubleheader sweep of the Orioles, going 1-for-2 with two walks in the Yanks' 3-1 victory.

"We have a saying in Cuba that the dream is to play for the Yankees," Morales said through a translator. "And here I am today."

Morales worked a second-inning walk, flied out in the fourth and then walked again in the sixth. He collected his first Yankees hit in the eighth inning, a ground-ball single up the middle facing Baltimore left-hander Paul Fry.

"He gave us the good at-bats we were looking for," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "It was good to have him in the mix. He has been a really good player, he comes with the reputation of being a really high-character guy. We hope he has a chance to impact the room like so many have this year."

The 35-year-old Morales slashed .204/.310/.259 (22-for-108) with one homer and seven RBIs in 34 games for Oakland. He batted .254/.346/.441 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs in the second half of last season with the Blue Jays.

"It was definitely tough to be moved around so many times in a year," Morales said. "You have to get used to the clubhouse, get used to the team, the teammates and all that. At the same time, you've got to find a way to make adjustments quickly. That's what we're looking to do."

In Statcast readings that surely did not go unnoticed by the Yankees' analytics department, Morales ranks in the Majors' 88th percentile in exit velocity and the 86th percentile in hard-hit percentage this season.

"In his career, he’s been a really good hitter," Boone said. "We’ve seen it first-hand, playing in this division with the Blue Jays the last several seasons. We feel like he’s still that guy. Just because the numbers weren’t great in Oakland, some of the underlying numbers suggest he is a lot closer to what he’s been the last couple years than what the immediate numbers were."

Prime time
Aaron Hicks admitted that he was "a little bit nervous" as he stepped to home plate for his first at-bat of the season on Wednesday, his debut having been delayed by a left lower back strain and then the pair of rainouts this week against the Orioles.

"It was like an Opening Day at-bat," said Hicks, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in New York's 3-1 win in Game 2. "When you hear the crowd cheering loud, you don’t really get that in extended [spring games]. I was excited. I kind of let the moment overwhelm me, but I was happy to just be out there again."

Boone had Hicks in the lineup for the rainouts on Monday and Tuesday, but opted to use his services in Wednesday's second game, telling the center fielder that he was "saving him for prime time."

"I wanted to play the first game," Hicks said. "I wanted to get it over with.”

Positive report
James Paxton said he felt no stiffness or soreness in his left knee on Wednesday, one day after he tossed in the bullpen at Yankee Stadium. Paxton played catch on the field before Wednesday's first game and said he expects to return to the bullpen on Friday, with hopes of avoiding a Minor League rehab start.

"They're kind of letting me know on a day-to-day basis right now what's coming next," Paxton said. "It's all based on how I feel when I come in that day. Today is a good day. I'm feeling good. I'm going to continue to play catch and continue with the program."

Paxton said that once he returns, he will continue to wear a brace on his left knee, similar to what CC Sabathia has worn on his right knee during starts over the past several seasons. Paxton said that the brace is meant to support his medial collateral ligament.

"I think it's helping," Paxton said. "They told me to wear it, so I'm wearing it. Hopefully it's doing its job. It's been feeling good so far."

The Lo down
The Yankees transferred right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga to the 60-day injured list to create space on the 40-man roster for Morales. Boone said the Yankees could consider Loaisiga as a bullpen option once he rejoins the active roster.

"That could certainly be a factor," Boone said. "It depends where you are at that point of the season. We’re probably talking about at least a couple months now before he’s an option to get back with us. A lot can change between now and then as far as what our needs are."

Bombers bits
Dellin Betances (right shoulder impingement) has increased his throwing to 90 feet as the right-hander eyes a June return to the bullpen. Betances' next steps would be to increase his throwing to 120 feet, then to return to the mound for bullpen sessions.

Greg Bird (left plantar fascia tear) has been walking on an anti-gravity treadmill but is not ready to resume baseball activities. Boone said that it has been "slow going" for the first baseman.

This date in Yankees history
May 15, 1941: Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak began with a single off Eddie Smith in the Yankees' 13-1 loss to the White Sox at Yankee Stadium.

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