Jacoby Ellsbury put his body on the line to make a catch — and the Yankees unknowingly put their center fielder at risk by allowing him to remain in the game even though it was later determined that he had suffered a concussion on the play.
Ellsbury may have a history of being soft and brittle, but there was nothing soft about the way the $153 million man went after the first pitch of Wednesday night’s 3-0 shutout win over the Royals at Yankee Stadium in center. He slammed hard against the wall as he robbed Alcides Escobar of extra bases with a remarkable catch that caused Luis Severino to raise his arms in celebration. Severino went on to pitch eight scoreless innings.
“It was incredible,” said Aaron Judge, who had a close view of the play to Ellsbury’s right. “Not too many people in the game make that play. First pitch of the game, first guy up there, you’re trying to get into the game, and then crack. He got a good jump, a good read and I don’t know how he held onto that ball.”
“It was a helluva play,” Brett Gardner, who was to Ellsbury’s left, added. “It set the tone of the game. I know it allowed Sevvy to get into a groove and carry that momentum through the rest of the game.”
Ellsbury finished up the inning despite eventually being diagnosed with a concussion and a neck sprain after he was replaced by Aaron Hicks at the start of the second. Yankees trainer Steve Donohue and manager Joe Girardi immediately ran out to check on Ellsbury, who was down for a while and seemed dazed when he got up following the play. But Donohue gave a smelling salt to Ellsbury, came away with the impression he was OK to continue, and the 33-year-old veteran remained in there for the final two outs of the frame — an apparent misdiagnosis.
“He talked about like he felt like it was his neck that was bothering him a little bit, nothing to do with his head,” Girardi said. “It was more like a whiplash. After coming in at the end of the inning, he went down (to the clubhouse) and Stevie went and talked to him and declared that we should probably get him out. And then he saw the doctors and they determined that he had a concussion.”
Ellsbury, who was placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list, had missed a game earlier in May after suffering a pinched-nerve in his left elbow while making a catch up against the wall.
“He plays to win,” Girardi said. “It’s unfortunate that he’s hit the wall a couple times hard. Obviously, we’re going to miss him for a while now, but he plays hard.”
The Yankees must now decide how to replace Ellsbury on the 25-man roster. Mason Williams and Rob Refsnyder are the likely candidates to be promoted from Triple-A Scranton since they’re both already on the 40-man roster and eligible to be added to the active roster without a corresponding move needing to be made.
Dustin Fowler and Clint Frazier are more intriguing names, but the Yankees would have to make an extra move to add them to the 40-man and start their service time clocks. Given that Hicks figures to slide into center and play every day while Ellsbury is out, it doesn’t seem worth it. Girardi said the team hasn’t had a chance to talk about it yet.
Earlier in the season, the Yankees got stellar production out of reserves Ronald Torreyes and Austin Romine with Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez sidelined. And Dellin Betances has been flawlessly filling in for the injured Aroldis Chapman. Now, they’ll likely turn to Hicks, who has been the Most Valuable Fourth Outfielder in the majors this season after struggling in his first year in pinstripes. Hicks has already hit as many homers this season as he did all of last season (eight).
“We’ve got a lot of depth, and we’ve been tested early on,” Gardner said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can get the job done. Jacoby’s a guy that you can’t really replace on both sides of the ball, but Hicks obviously has been playing great and he’s going to step right in and we’ll just keep rolling along. Hopefully Jacoby’s not out for long.”
Ellsbury — a .266/.328/.385 hitter in pinstripes — hasn’t lived up to expectations since signing a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees in 2014. He’s been benched in big games and been brittle when it comes to his health.
But he showed something in pulling down the catch, and the Yankees could’ve been more cautious and proactive and pulled him from the game when he got hurt.
“He’s going to give his all on offense and defense, and you have to love that in center field,” Judge said.