“I just tried to do the best I can do. Looking for my pitch. Looking for my pitch and be aggressive. Got a great result,” Encarnacion said following Game 1. “I try to swing at the ball in the strike zone and got some good luck today.”
Encarnacion took at-bats in a simulated game earlier this week and declared himself ready to go, so much so that Boone penciled him into the cleanup spot in Game 1. He didn’t ease him back in. In his first two at-bats, Encarnacion roped hard-hit doubles to left field, the second of which brought home New York’s first run. “We decided Edwin was good to go,” manager Aaron Boone said prior to Game 1. “… Edwin having the questions going into this week, would he be able to get over that final hump and feel comfortable that he is? So it’s definitely good to go in with pretty much a loaded barrel, you know.”
The Yankees led baseball with 943 runs this season despite a barrage of injuries that saw them put a record number of players on the injured list. Encarnacion spent time on the injured list himself — in addition to the oblique, an errant pitch broke his wrist in August — but he also put up 13 homers and an .856 OPS in 44 games with New York. Even at age 36, he’s still dangerous. The first double left Encarnacion’s bat at 111.7 mph Friday, and the second at 114.4 mph. That is his highest recorded exit velocity since Statcast launched back in 2015. Encarnacion got around on two Jose Berrios fastballs (93.5 mph and 94.6 mph) and pulled them to left field, a good sign after the injury. He went 2 for 5 with two doubles in Game 1 and answered any questions about his readiness.
Rather than be a luxury, Encarnacion has become as much a cornerstone for the Yankees offense as DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge. He hits for power, he doesn’t strike out excessively, and he puts together quality at-bats. Had Encarnacion been unable to play in the ALDS, it’s unclear who the Yankees would’ve used at DH. Probably Voit, who was not in Friday’s lineup.
Encarnacion seemed like a luxury when the Yankees acquired him from the Mariners in June, but that is hardly the case. Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez both returned from injuries not too long and are still getting back up to speed at the plate. Didi Gregorius hasn’t been quite right since returning from Tommy John surgery, and Luke Voit struggled badly in September.
The Yankees originally planned to have Encarnacion take some at-bats in the final series of the regular season last weekend, but his oblique wasn’t healthy enough, so they held him out. He admitted he was not yet swinging with 100 percent effort at the time, which was an ominous sign with the ALDS approaching. Encarnacion hadn’t seen live pitching in weeks. “(Until) we get him through some (simulated games) Tuesday and Wednesday, that’ll be the final determination,” GM Brian Cashman told reporters, including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, over the weekend. “So that’s an example of something we’re optimistic, but we need more information before we make the final call.”
NEW YORK — Three weeks. That’s how long Yankees slugger Edwin Encarnacion went between MLB games thanks to an oblique strain. Encarnacion hurt his oblique taking a swing on Sept. 12. He returned to the lineup in ALDS Game 1 on Friday night and had a hand in his team’s win (NYY 10, MIN 4).