NEW YORK — It's been almost two years since the last time Giancarlo Stanton played outfield in a regular season game for the Yankees.
Based on the comments delivered from manager Aaron Boone on Saturday, however, it sounds like that defensive drought will be snapped soon.
"I would say it's on the horizon," Boone said on Stanton returning to the outfield. "The importance of having his bat in the lineup is the biggest thing."
Stanton's defense has been a topic of discussion periodically ever since he was acquired from Miami prior to the 2018 season. Prone to injuries in pinstripes, specifically in his legs, putting Stanton in the outfield hasn't exactly been conducive to keeping the slugger healthy.
As much as Stanton has been able to settle into a consistent role as New York's designated hitter over the last few seasons, the importance of him being able to play on defense as well has grown exponentially of late.
New York is scrambling to manage a COVID-19 outbreak, filling in for six players on the active roster after they all tested positive for the virus. That group includes Aaron Judge, the Yankees' most consistent hitter (and an underrated defender in right field).
Factor that in with season-ending wrist surgery for starting center fielder Aaron Hicks, along with the lack of production the Yankees have gotten from the rest of the outfield in 2021, and it's safe to say Stanton being able to play anywhere other than designated hitter every once in a while would be helpful for Boone as he pieces together playing time.
Even the reserves in the outfield are dropping like flies. Clint Frazier and Miguel Andújar are both on the injured list and recently-acquired outfielder Tim Locastro suffered a torn ACL on Saturday night in the Yankees' rain-shortened victory over the Red Sox.
Boone has hinted at Stanton's return to the outfield grass every so often this season, repeatedly pointing out that the slugger works on his defense in the outfield during batting practice as part of his pregame routine.
Stanton's latest injury, Boone said, was the reason why this entire process was postponed.
"I think timing hurt a little bit. In spring training, we left and we broke with a full outfield and didn't really see a spot where we were going to need it," Boone explained. "Then he got hurt. Even though it was fairly minor, he missed two to three weeks, set that plan back a little bit and then we got him ramped up and going again."
That injury was a left quad strain. The slugger wound up missing 13 games, sidelined shortly after completing a stretch where he was batting .481 (25-for-52) as part of a 12-game hitting streak.
During last year's shortened campaign, Stanton spent time on the shelf with a left hamstring strain. He would've missed time had the season started as scheduled in the spring as well, suffering a Grade 1 right calf strain during fielding drills in spring training.
"There's a lot of value in having versatile players that can play multiple positions," Boone said. "There's absolutely value in having some flexibility so that you can on a given day, maybe how a guy's feeling or having to give a guy a rest or wanting to use a DH day for somebody."
Boone mentioned New York's upcoming series on the road against the Marlins as a target for when Stanton may return to playing in the outfield. With no designated hitter in a National League ballpark, the slugger would be coming off the bench otherwise.
Stanton has made it clear in the past that he's willing to give the outfield a shot. There is a possibility of that coming sooner than the series in Miami at the end of the month, depending on the health of those around Stanton and how the 31-year-old progresses in his physical preparation.
"We're trying to push to get him back out there potentially next weekend," Boone revealed. "Obviously, with the Marlins series coming up at the end of the month, we're working in that direction."
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