Tough roster calls loom for red-hot Yankees

August 25th, 2021

NEW YORK -- If it ain’t broke … make it better?

That is the challenge facing Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone over the next few weeks, beginning with Thursday’s expected roster move to reinstate third baseman Gio Urshela from the injured list.

The Yankees arrived in the Bay Area early on Wednesday riding an 11-game winning streak, their longest since September 1985. Though Urshela’s return could impact playing time for contributors, Boone said he isn’t concerned about spoiling a magic formula that vaulted the Bronx Bombers into the thick of a pennant race.

“We’ve had guys trickle back in during this streak,” Boone said after Tuesday’s win in Atlanta. “We’ve been playing well for over a month. People have come in and come out. The more good people we can get on deck and onboard, we’ll take that.”

Even with rosters expanding from 26 to 28 players on Sept. 1, the Yankees figure to have a few moves in store as they prepare to battle down the stretch for postseason position. Here is a peek into the tweaks that the Yanks may make in the coming weeks and who it could impact:

1) Urshela will reclaim the hot corner

Urshela played in two rehab games this week for Double-A Somerset, banging four hits in eight at-bats as he returns from a left hamstring strain. He’s flying west and is expected to be activated before Thursday’s series opener against the Athletics.

That pending return to third base figures to displace Rougned Odor, who has produced clutch hits this year and has started all but one game at the hot corner during the winning streak. Before Urshela’s injury, Odor had primarily been used at second base. Innings are scarce there now that Anthony Rizzo and Luke Voit are sharing first base, allowing DJ LeMahieu to slip back in at second base.

“The key is we’ve been playing together,” Odor said. “We’ve been talking to each other a lot in the dugout; talking about situations, about the pitcher -- what he’s got, what he’s been throwing to me. We’ve been playing together and as a family. When we’re playing like that, good things are going to happen.”

2) Corey Kluber’s return is on the horizon

Believe it or not, Kluber pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees this season (we know, it feels like there is no way that happened in 2021). But it did, on May 19 at Texas, and Kluber hasn’t pitched in a big league game since May 25.

Though it seemed Kluber’s season was in jeopardy at that point, having been diagnosed with a right subscapular strain that required months of rest and rehab, the right-hander worked 3 2/3 solid innings on Tuesday for Double-A Somerset against Akron. The Yankees are evaluating how Kluber responds.

“We’ll see,” Boone said after Tuesday’s game in Atlanta. “I want to get through today and kind of see where we’re at, and make what’s the next best step for him and for us.”

Assuming there are no setbacks, Kluber could rejoin the rotation in early September. That would figure to displace left-hander Andrew Heaney, who would be shifted to a long-man role out of the bullpen.

With right-hander Domingo Germán also tossing bullpens, the returns would impact one of the current members of the relief corps (possibly right-hander Albert Abreu?). It also leaves right-hander Luis Gil on the outside looking in, despite having pitched 15 2/3 scoreless innings to begin his big league career.

“These are good problems to have,” Boone said. “They’re things we’ll have to sort through and see what’s best for everyone -- and for us moving forward.”

3) Gleyber Torres will be back at shortstop

Considering Andrew Velazquez’s feel-good Bronx tale and solid performance on both sides of the ball, this one might be tough for fans to swallow. The Morris Park product has made the most of an unexpected opportunity to live a dream of wearing the pinstripes, but if Torres is healthy, the Yankees will write his name into the starting lineup.

A left thumb strain has kept Torres out since Aug. 8, and the Yanks advised that he wait until he is pain-free to resume baseball activities. The infielder worked out with Double-A Somerset this week, a sign that his condition is improving.

“He’s ramping up his swing progressions,” Boone said. “He’ll be hitting on the field, start hitting off some velocity and then we’ll be in a position to consider rehab games at that point.”

With Torres likely to return in early September, the clock is ticking on at-bats for Velazquez and Tyler Wade, though they both could stick on the roster as versatile options off the bench. As the Yanks have learned far too often over the last several years, you can never have enough depth.

“Go back to the Trade Deadline, when we added some big pieces,” Aaron Judge said. “Anytime you do that, it adds some new blood to the team and gets guys fired up. You know, I still don’t think we’re clicking on all cylinders yet, but big guys are stepping up in big moments.”