MINNEAPOLIS — Fresh off back-to-back MVP-caliber seasons, signing a colossal contract in the offseason, expectations for DJ LeMahieu entering the 2021 season were astronomically high.
Through the first 60 games of the year, however, there have only been flashes of the LeMahieu that carried this offense over the last two campaigns.
Entering play on Tuesday in Minnesota, the infielder was hitting .253 (56-for-221) with only three home runs, 33 runs scored and a .656 OPS. Those figures are a bit jarring when you compare to his performance in 2020, leading all of baseball with a .364 batting average while adding 10 homers and a spectacular 1.011 OPS, finishing third in the race for American League MVP Award.
As LeMahieu's struggles this year have persisted, questions about his placement in New York's scuffling lineup have gotten more and more prevalent. LeMahieu has played in virtually every game this season—rotating from second base to first and third on defense—and has been penciled into the leadoff spot in all but one of the games he's played.
Asked on Tuesday afternoon if he has any plans of shifting LeMahieu back in the order, perhaps to take the pressure off and allow the infielder to figure it out at the plate, manager Aaron Boone quickly dismissed the thought.
"No," Boone said. "It's going to take all of us, it's going to take the entire lineup, doing their job to make sure we're meeting expectations. A big part of that is DJ at the top and getting him into that really good consistent DJ space is critical to what we're doing."
Boone's got a point. When LeMahieu is firing on all cylinders, it opens doors for the rest of the lineup to do damage, putting a runner on base for the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and more behind him.
Hours after the skipper squashed the concept of moving LeMahieu out of the leadoff spot, the infielder had a bit of a breakout performance.
LeMahieu started the game Tuesday night by pounding a double off the right-field wall against ex-Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda. New York didn't end up scoring that inning, but the leadoff man did exactly what he's supposed to do in the top spot, taking a two-strike offering to the opposite field while getting on base.
Later, LeMahieu played a key role in the Yankees' fifth-inning rally, stroking a single through the left side to load the bases. That allowed Judge and Gleyber Torres to drive runs in behind him with a walk and a wild pitch.
After the 2-for-6 night at the plate, LeMahieu stopped by the Yankees Zoom room, explaining why he was happy to see some results in the batter's box. That's when his placement in the lineup was brought up.
"I don't really care where I hit to be honest with you," he said. "I feel like when I'm myself and I'm getting on base, good things happen. I haven't been doing that great, but there's a lot of season left. Hopefully I can get on base for the big guys behind me."
For a club that's coming off a brutal homestand, and had lost 10 of their last 13, getting LeMahieu rolling atop the order would be a massive boost. As the veteran alluded to, there's plenty of time left this season to produce the numbers Yankees fans are used to seeing from LeMahieu.
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