Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson nearing returns, but where do they fit in the lineup?

NEW YORK – Before the Orioles and Yankees began their regular batting practice Wednesday, two players had empty Yankee Stadium to themselves.

Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton took turns hitting off a pitching machine, hours before the Yankees lost, 9-6, to Baltimore.

Donaldson is due to begin a minor league rehab stint Thursday at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and there’s a good chance he’s back in the Yankees’ lineup sometime next week.

Stanton could follow Donaldson by this weekend, and maybe he’s in play when the Yankees visit his hometown of Los Angeles from June 2-4, to play the Dodgers.

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In other words, they’re close to a return from hamstring injuries, and manager Aaron Boone anticipates Donaldson returning to a regular role at third base.

New York Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton watches his fly ball out against the Washington Nationals during the fourth a spring training baseball game Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

That would put DJ LeMahieu back in a swing role, getting regular starts at third base, second base and first base for Donaldson, Gleyber Torres and Anthony Rizzo, and occasionally serving as the designated hitter.

Torres belted two homers Wednesday night, his 14th career multi-homer game, first this year, and eighth against the Orioles, though Baltimore overcame a four-run deficit with an eight-run seventh inning.

In addition to his DH duties in the middle of the order, Stanton will remain in the outfield mix, which the Yankees believe is beneficial to the slugger’s health in the long run.

And that’s going to result in a couple of roster moves to accommodate both veterans.

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To recap, Donaldson hasn’t played for the Yankees since April 5, when he exited the sixth game of the season due to right hamstring tightness.

A setback during a mid-April rehab stint cost Donaldson another six weeks, though he’s been conducting on-field baseball activity since May 1, with a brief break due to a thumb contusion.

Stanton was off to a good start, with four homers, 11 RBI and an .854 OPS in 13 games when he strained his left hamstring pulling into second base with a double on April 15.

Speaking late Wednesday afternoon, Boone said it was possible that Donaldson could be activated during the next road series at Seattle, beginning Monday.

But it was “probably more likely’’ to see Donaldson activated “later in the week, just because he’s been down for so long.’’

Josh Donaldson talks to media at Somerset April 18, 2023.

With an off day next Thursday, between the series at Seattle and L.A., that could put Donaldson on track for the series opener at Dodger Stadium.

After this Sunday’s rehab game, “We’ll just kind of see where we’re at,’’ Boone said of Donaldson needing another game or two or being ready for activation.

Stanton is scheduled for an MRI Thursday to determine if his injury is fully healed before green-lighting a rehab stint.

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On the Yankees’ current 26-man roster, switch-hitting infielder-outfielder Oswaldo Cabrera, and lefty-hitting outfielder-DHs Jake Bauers and Willie Calhoun are in the most vulnerable spots.

Once Donaldson returns, Cabrera could be optioned to Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

May 14, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees second baseman Oswaldo Cabrera (95) throws out Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco (5) after fielding a ground ball during the third inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Wednesday, Cabrera (who was not in the starting lineup) was batting .204 with a .568 OPS, the lowest on the Yankees except Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s .560.

But IKF is earning $6 million and isn’t going anywhere; he’s a backup shortstop and he’s also increased his versatility by adapting to the outfield.

And on Wednesday, Kiner-Falefa tripled and homered as the starting left fielder. It was his third homer in his last four starts, partly due to resuming the hitting style he abandoned last year - using a leg kick.

He's also more comfortable as a reserve, understanding his role better and using his down time to study pitchers he might face.

"I don't think my numbers last year were good enough to hold a (regular) spot,'' said IKF late Wednesday. "I'll fill in wherever I have to fill in.''

Bauers and Calhoun are both out of minor league options, as is Greg Allen, acquired via trade last week from the Boston Red Sox to replace Aaron Hicks, who was designated for assignment.

Allen was specifically added because he was more adaptable to a reserve role and provides more speed off the bench.

If it comes down to Bauers or Calhoun when Stanton is ready, Bauers seems the likelier candidate to lose his spot. Calhoun was called up on April 8, ahead of Bauers, who was summoned April 29, after the Yanks optioned Franchy Cordero.

This article originally appeared on Yankees lineup options for Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson returns