Finally back from injury, Giancarlo Stanton needs to prove his worth to Yankees in October

NEW YORK — Giancarlo Stanton finally returned to the New York Yankees’ lineup on Tuesday.

But he won’t have a chance to really redeem himself until October.

Stanton’s second season in pinstripes had barely begun before he missed 68 consecutive games due to a variety of injuries to his biceps, shoulder, knee and calf — a more than two-month stint on the injured list that included a couple “very frustrating” setbacks.

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So when Stanton walked into the home clubhouse — his name penciled in the No. 5 spot in a potent lineup — veteran teammates CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner each came over and gave No. 27 a hug.

“It’s been a long time — it feels longer than it has been for me,” Stanton said before going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and making a nifty catch along the right-field line in his first game since April 1, as the Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 6-3. “I’m excited to be here. The boys have been fun to watch while I’ve been gone, so it’s going to be good to get back in there and battle with them.”

The Yankees have managed just fine without Stanton — and several others during a baffling 2019 campaign in which they’ve been ravaged by injury — holding down the fourth-best record in the majors as of Tuesday (44-27).

Offensively, they ranked eighth in runs (382), tied for sixth in homers (113) and tied for ninth in OPS (.783). But they’re glad to have one of their two supersized sluggers back — with Aaron Judge (oblique) rehabbing at Triple-A Scranton and not far behind. Stanton and Judge had combined for just 81 at-bats over the first 71 games this season.

Giancarlo Stanton was back in the Yankees' lineup on Tuesday night following a 68-game absence due to injuries. (USA TODAY Sports)
Giancarlo Stanton was back in the Yankees' lineup on Tuesday night following a 68-game absence due to injuries. (USA TODAY Sports)

“We were already dangerous, and it’s another icing on the cake,” said Stanton, a day after new acquisition Edwin Encarnacion made his Yankee debut. “We have to build this together. And once we’re at full-force, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Stanton’s first season as a Yankee ended in disappointment, with him looking overmatched against Craig Kimbrel and failing to come through in the clutch. The former NL MVP finished with 38 homers and an .852 OPS in the regular season but struggled in high-leverage situations (.197) and against sliders (.169). He also struck out 211 times, and often heard boos from frustrated fans as a result. Facing the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, he went 4-for-18 with six strikeouts, as the holes in his swing were exploited.

The 29-year-old will now be asked to play regularly in left field, with Encarnacion and Luke Voit getting the bulk of DH days for manager Aaron Boone’s Bombers. Gardner, a plus defender in left, will be relegated to a reserve role. Boone plans to ease Stanton back into everyday action over the next couple of weeks. He’s also going to need to get acclimated to facing MLB pitching again, looking rusty on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s a huge addition because not all [Stanton’s] homers impact the game (five of his 38 homers came in high-leverage situations), the strikeouts are a real issue and he’s a below-average defender [in left],” one scout opined to Yahoo Sports.

In any case, Stanton, who has a much better idea about facing AL pitching with a full year of Yankee at-bats under his belt and seemingly possesses the ability to adjust, won’t be asked to carry a lineup that is already replete with difference-makers. The Yankees are perfectly capable of outscoring their opponents and shortening games with their unparalleled power bullpen.

“We have a lot of dynamic hitters, and certainly Giancarlo is one of those,” Boone said. “Hopefully the length that we have in that lineup makes it difficult for the opposing team.”

All that’s really missing is another top-of-the-rotation starter, and with Clint FrazierEstevan FlorialThairo Estrada and other prospects as prime trade bait, that move appears a fait accompli. Options could include Trevor Bauer, Madison Bumgarner, Matthew Boyd, Marcus Stroman or Max Scherzer, if the Washington Nationals ultimately decide to become sellers.

That caliber of addition is imperative. Masahiro Tanaka has proven reliable, but James Paxton still doesn’t look 100 percent healthy and Luis Severino and Domingo German are both on the mend from injury themselves. J.A. Happ has struggled with homers all season while Sabathia hasn’t been able to find his form since mid-May.

“They’re gonna go big, and they have the bullets to go get [an impact starter],” the scout said.

Stanton came to the Yankees in a stunning blockbuster trade in December 2017, waiving his no-trade clause to facilitate a deal to The Bronx with 10 years and $295 million left on his record contract ($265 million of which will be paid by the Yankees if Stanton doesn’t trigger an opt-out clause following the 2020 season). In his first year, he was very good but not otherworldly.

The Bombers elected to pass on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this offseason — partly because they had already acquired Stanton — instead electing to diversify their funds into the likes of DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino, two signings that have paid immediate dividends. And neither Harper or Machado have gone off.

All things considered, Stanton isn’t returning to a team in peril or facing immediate Harper or Machado regret — though that could change if Stanton’s production diminishes. Plus, there’s the whole aging and remaining money owed part of the equation. So yes, you wonder how the Yankees feel about everything now in retrospect.

Regardless, the pressure is off — for now.

But come the playoffs, it’ll be a different story, Giancarlo Stanton’s next shot to really prove his worth to the win-or-bust Bombers.

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