October 2, 2019 | 6:01pm
| Updated October 2, 2019 | 6:03pm
The large screen was up behind the mound protecting pitching coach Larry Rothschild. The stands were empty. The weather warm. A simulated game ongoing.
This is early morning at Steinbrenner Field. Late February. A full season ahead. Low stress.
Except these are the 2019 Yankees, kings of baseball chaos theory. The tryout camp is ongoing because the injuries are never ending. So it is October. The weather unseasonably hot in The Bronx. The next game isn’t No. 1 of 162. It is No. 1 of the Division Series against the Twins. Friday night. And the Yankees are still seeing who is in and who is out, deciding how to configure a roster as the hours click closer.
“We are ready for anything, that has been the mantra for a while,” Adam Ottavino said. “We don’t know how they are going to work it yet, but it doesn’t change much.”
This worked in a 103-win regular season. The Yanks embraced scramble mode on Opening Day and 39 injured-list stints later (involving a record 30 players) they have not stopped. Their depth — of talent and fortitude to not surrender as second- and third- and fourth-stringers filled in — carried the Yanks to their first AL East title since 2012.
Will this continue as they hunt their first World Series championship since 2009? Or at some point is this all one Jenga piece too many and the whole structure collapses?
Because what isn’t available for sure in this series is definitely painful. The big arms of Dellin Betances and Domingo German — particularly against the righty might of Minnesota’s lineup. The lefty bats and outfield defense of Aaron Hicks and Mike Tauchman — particularly against the largely righty Twins staff.
And beyond the definitely out is the definite maybes for the Yankees, which is why there was a simulated game Wednesday with David Hale and Jordan Montgomery pitching. The Yanks are weighing a 13-man staff, and Aaron Boone channeled his inner Bill Belichick for how forthcoming he wanted to be about what is ongoing with CC Sabathia and his availability — or likely unavailability.
Edwin Encarnacion, out since Sept. 12 with an oblique injury, let loose in simulated games Tuesday and Wednesday and sounds good to go. Boone is insisting Gio Urshela (ankle) and James Paxton (glute) are fine.
“Is it perfect? No,” Boone said about the limited at-bats and fielding reps for Giancarlo Stanton leading up to Game 1. But, here also, he insists Stanton is ready.
Look, it is that time of year. The Twins are without Byron Buxton and have uncertainty with Luis Arraez, Marwin Gonzalez and Max Kepler.
It is just this is the Yankees’ whole season. For the Twins, who obviously want to win, getting here is a successful campaign. The Yanks must do more than that.
They must continue to find a way to navigate the constant fire drill that is 2019.
Luke Voit on WednesdayCharles Wenzelberg/New York PostBoone insisted, “I’m pretty clear about which way we’re going,” when it comes to his Division Series roster and how he will deploy it. But he was as ready to discuss those subjects as, say, Bill Clinton would be to revisit the subject of Monica Lewinsky.
The Yanks do not have to submit their roster to the Commissioner’s Office until 10 a.m. Friday and they can keep who their starting pitchers are a mystery until close to game time if they want. And it seems a lot is fluid. For example, maybe Chad Green will be used as an opener, but not if he is needed to help win, say, Game 1 in relief.
I do think the Yanks should not get slick with openers in Games 1-3. Just start Paxton, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. They are talented enough to get 15 or more outs, which if it happens should set the Yanks up well for their bullpen. If not, then just bullpen early.
I would go with 13 pitchers rather than 12, because the way this series is most likely to play out the Yanks will need extra arms over bats.
But that would mean just a three-man bench — Austin Romine and two others from among Mike Ford, Cameron Maybin, Luke Voit and Tyler Wade. I suspect — and think this is the right way to go — the Yanks will emphasize defense and play DJ LeMahieu at first and Urshela at third.
And I think if Encarnacion is indeed healthy they will and should go with him at DH. Voit finished poorly and Encarnacion, in part because of his Indians/AL Central history, has more familiarity against Twins pitching and at this moment just projects as more likely to assemble quality at-bats.
Ford as a backup first baseman and lefty bat off the bench plus Wade’s speed/versatility would be my lean, especially if the Yanks are comfortable that Wade is no worse a defender in left than Maybin should Stanton need to be taken off the field.
That all of this is under discussion and in flux feels familiar. This is the 2019 Yankee season. Nothing changes in October.