Aaron Hicks Sets Sights on Yankees' Opener, Feels 'Game Ready'
When Aaron Hicks underwent Tommy John surgery last fall, the Yankees' outfielder was set to miss the first several months of the 2020 regular season.
Now, the switch-hitting outfielder is setting his sights on starting in the Bombers' lineup when New York opens up MLB's coronavirus-shortened campaign later this month.
"I feel good. My hitting has been going well, throwing has been going well," Hicks said Saturday. "Everyday I get stronger and stronger. Obviously I have days where I don’t feel great, but overall the process has been really good and really quick. I’ve been able to throw longer and throw the ball a little harder more consistently as my progression has been going on."
If all goes according to plan over the next three weeks at Yankees' Summer Camp, Hicks may very well be the first big leaguer to have Tommy John surgery and return without missing a single regular season game.
Impossible, right? MLB's four-month delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic was integral in helping Hicks position himself to get healthy in time for New York's opener.
The 29-year-old went under the knife on October 30 and was expected to be available in either June or July. Right on schedule with his rehab and progression, Hicks believes he's ready to play right now even if his arm isn't completely healed just yet.
" From what I’ve heard, it takes awhile to be completely 100 percent," he said. "But I feel really good right now. I feel game ready right now, able to compete and able to consistently be out there in the outfield to play good defense and try to help my team win. "
Proof that a return to game action isn't far away for Hicks has been spotted on the field in the Bronx these last few days. Hicks has faced the likes of Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka in live at-bats and took hacks in batting practice while continuing to make progress in his throwing program.
Entering his eighth big-league season, Hicks has dealt with injuries before and knows his own body. After all, he spent a significant time on the injured list a year ago, appearing in just 59 games over the course of the 2019 campaign.
In that span, Hicks hit 12 home runs to go along with 36 runs batted in and a .235 batting average. He's one season removed from arguably the best season of his career in 2018 – across 147 games played, Hicks set career highs across the board offensively, stroking 27 homers, tallying 119 base hits and scoring 90 runs.
Asked what he's looking to improve on the most in these next few weeks of workouts, Hicks singled out the zip on his throws in from the outfield. His velocity will be a good indicator that his arm is back up to speed.
"I’m looking for being able to throw the ball with more velocity," Hicks explained. "Right now, some come out and some don’t. It’s just inconsistent with throwing. When you don’t have to worry about it, it comes out the same, but when you’re coming back from Tommy John, there’s just days where it doesn’t come out."
Assuming Hicks can continue to stride toward his return without any setbacks, he'll be the favorite to join a starting outfield likely to consist of himself, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge. Other options include Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier and even Miguel Andújar.
Like Hicks, Judge is also nearing his return from injury, recovering from a fractured right rib and pneumothorax sustained last fall. New York is "optimistic" Judge will be ready for Opening Day and the slugger has appeared healthy, participating in all aspects of baseball activity at Yankee Stadium over the past few days.
Yankees' general manager Brian Cashman revealed the organization is aiming to use Giancarlo Stanton as a designated hitter early on as he also approaches his return from injury. The veteran slugger sustained a right calf strain earlier this spring.
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