Source: DJ EberleNew York Yankees Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Jacoby Ellsbury take batting practice before a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles on March 18, 2017.
TAMPA, Fla. — New York Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin’s road to recovery hasn’t gone as smoothly as he’d hoped.
After fouling a ball off of his left foot during batting practice the third week of February, Austin was set to be sidelined for at least six weeks as the small navicular fracture healed. However, it looks like it will take more than six weeks to fully recover.
Austin was rolling around the Yankees clubhouse on a scooter Saturday — before the game against the Baltimore Orioles — with an ankle brace on his left foot. The former Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRider said he’d be back in a walking boot in two weeks.
“Everything’s getting better every day,” Austin said. “I’ve been staying in shape. I feel like I’m in really good shape right now. Once this thing heals up we’ll be good to go.”
When asked how close Austin was to playing baseball again, he said he didn’t know, but that he wasn’t where he wanted it to be with his recovery. However, Austin has been able to continue to work out, doing mostly upper body work, but has been able to go through some leg workouts.
Austin’s not too worried about his latest setback, especially considering he’s faced adversity during his playing career before. The 25-year-old is just eager to get back on the horse.
“It’s just one more thing,” Austin said. “It’s nothing I’m going to put too much stress on. I’ll be back soon and ready to go.”
Judge getting consistent at plate
Aaron Judge is just one piece of the Bay Bombers, and like catcher Gary Sanchez, the 6-foot-8 outfielder could be the closest to an everyday starting role with the big-league club.
Judge is in the middle of a two-man duel for the starting job in right field with Aaron Hicks.
Through the first 22 games, the race is pretty even. Judge is batting .270 with a pair of home runs and three RBIs while Hicks owns a .258 batting average and has collected two home runs to pair with three RBIs.
Judge went 1 for 3 with a double off of the center field wall in Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. Hicks went 0 for 3.
“It’s going great,” Judge said of his spring. “What I’m most excited about is quality at-bats. That’s probably my main goal this spring. Every at-bat, just swing at the right pitches, making solid contact, walk when I need to and feel comfortable in the box. If I can feel comfortable, than I can take that into the season because you may go into the spring and start getting cheap hits and not feeling good and that won’t translate into the season, but if I’m feeling comfortable, swinging at the right pitches, it’ll translate. So I’m excited.”
One adjustment Judge had to work on this spring was his swing-and-miss rate. The 24-year-old struck out once every two at-bats in 27 games last season. He has already cut his 50-percent strikeout rate in half this spring, striking out nine times in 37 at-bats.
It’s the progress Judge has been looking for.
“It’s an ongoing process. It’s a process from once I got drafted — making little changes here and there,” Judge said of his swing. “For me, it was just about working on being consistent. If I feel like I can get in a consistent position to hit the baseball, be consistent with my bat path through the zone, then I feel like my room for error will increase. So I’m expecting 95 (mph) and I got those at 97, and I get beat a little bit, my bat’s in the zone, I’m in there and I’ll be able to drive it to right field.”
Leading off the eighth inning, Billy McKinney tied the game 4-4 with his home run over the wall in right center.
McKinney’s home run was his third of the spring as the outfielder continues to make a name for himself. The prospect, who came to the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman trade, was batting .375 coming into Saturday’s tilt and could be a familiar face for RailRiders fans by season’s end.
“I’ve been just trying to stay with the grind and follow the guys and be a part of the team really,” McKinney said. “That’s a big part of the process I’ve been trying to stick to. Watch guys like Judgey, (Brett) Gardner, Hicks, (Jacoby) Ellsbury and all of those guys. Just trying to learn and get better every day.”
Montgomery nearing first start
While New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he wasn’t 100-percent sure when Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders starter Jordan Montgomery will make his first start, it does seem like he has a pretty good idea.
“For some reason I want to say it’s here,” Girardi said pointing to March 23 on the whiteboard in his office when asked when the lefty would make his first start.
Montgomery shined in Friday’s combined no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers, pitching four perfect innings.
Frieri makes debut
Ernesto Frieri is living his dream.
After a strong showing for Columbia during the opening round of the World Baseball Classic, the reliever signed a minor league deal with an invite to the Yankees’ big-league camp earlier this week. And Saturday was his first appearance in pinstripes.
Frieri, who hasn’t pitched in a major league game since 2015, allowed one run on one hit — an Aneury Tavarez home run while striking out three batters — in the loss, which was attributed to the righty.
“I’m really, really happy to be here. This is a dream that I’ve had since I was a kid and I wanted to take advantage of this,” Frieri said.
After his release from the Philadelphia Phillies on April 5, 2016, Frieri went back home and stepped away from the game.
By not attempting to stick with another team, Frieri decided to start from scratch. Working with his longtime coach, Manuel Ezquivia, the reliever feels he’s gotten back to, and better than, where he was in 2013 when he registered a 3.80 ERA and recorded a career-best 37 saves with the Los Angeles Angeles.
“I went back to zero. I went back to Columbia and started working with the people who actually taught me how to play baseball when I was a kid,” Frieri said. “I started doing the little stuff, like throwing the ball, how to throw the ball, how to stay back and it worked out well for me. Right now I feel great.
“For me, I just tried to go back and re-learn (my delivery). I got my delivery back, I got my deception back and proved myself in the WBC. Good hitters, they can hit fastballs if it doesn’t look that good. Even (players) talked to me after and said, ‘Dude, man, you’re back. I can’t pick the ball out of your hand.’”
If Frieri doesn’t stick with the big-league club out of camp, he’s open to starting the season in the minors. This is where he wants to be.
“I just wanted to come here and throw well,” Frieri said. “I’m just here and I’m going to take advantage. I’m going to throw two, maybe three innings before spring training gets over. I’m just going to do my best.
“Oh yeah, (I’d go to the minors). I’m with the Yankees. I’ll do whatever. Obviously if you make me choose of course I’d stay with the Yankees, but I know that I didn’t play last year and I need to throw, but I’m just ready. I’m healthy, and that’s huge, and I got my delivery back. Also my comfort is back too.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle