NEW YORK -- Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was once again out of the New York Yankees' lineup Thursday night due to the quad strain he suffered in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, but the return of his bat may be imminent.
Stanton hit in the cage and did running drills at Yankee Stadium ahead of an 8-3 Game 4 loss. Manager Aaron Boone said before the game that he could use Stanton as a pinch-hitter, but Stanton never stepped to the plate. Boone also said it was possible Stanton could serve as the designated hitter for Friday's Game 5.
"I had already made my lineup before I saw [him running drills], but I was at least encouraged to see him do a little bit better today," Boone said. "Felt like today, for the first day, was probably better; 60 percent run-wise. Not ready to put him in the outfield, especially here, but feel like he's probably close to a DH option, that kind of thing. Certainly a hitter off the bench for us in a spot."
"We'll see tomorrow; we'll see how we do tonight, where we are going in tomorrow," Boone added. "But I feel like in talking to him, and seeing him today was first day of some improvement. I just felt like his run was a little higher level. But hopefully we can continue to make some small improvements to where you know he's a better option and can be safe out there, too."
The main consideration for the Yankees' skipper will be shifting away from their best defensive alignment, particularly in the infield, with DJ LeMahieu starting at first base and Gio Urshela at third.
If Stanton starts at DH, Boone will then have to decide what to do with Edwin Encarnacion, whether to bench him or have him start at first base, which would then mean not counting on Urshela's Gold Glove-caliber defense, with LeMahieu sliding over to third base.
"Are we going to be as dynamic as we are with DJ at first and Gio at third? You know, the defense we have out there right now is our best defense across the board, but [I] feel like if Edwin has to play first he's a very capable first baseman," Boone said. "You're trying to kind of walk that line, strike that balance. I would want to feel pretty good about it, because if he goes in there, it's taking out a good player. So I'll just, I'll need to feel good about it."
Despite Encarnacion recording only one hit in 12 ALCS at-bats entering Game 4, Boone has repeatedly stated he prefers to have the promise of his power in the lineup.
"He's a great hitter that can wreck a game in a hurry," Boone said of Encarnacion, who hit .308 (4-for-13) in their sweep of the Twins in the Divisional Series. "So he hasn't got a couple hits; he's been pitched pretty tough against elite pitching. So those are going to happen in the postseason. I'm confident in his ability to go out there and have his level of at-bat."
Boone contemplated including Stanton in Thursday's starting lineup because of his great at-bats against Houston's Game 4 starter Zack Greinke. Stanton went 2-for-2 off Greinke in Game 1 of the ALCS, including the infield single where he injured his quad running down the line in the second inning and a solo home run in the sixth.
"I was tempted, yeah, and it's something that I kind of toiled over a lot the last 24 to 36 hours, but I want him to feel like he's at least a little bit healthy and in my eyes good enough to be a real factor," Boone said.
While Stanton's return to the ALCS seemed like a long shot, apparently the Yankees have seen enough improvement to move away from considering replacing him on their 25-man roster. Any roster changes need to be approved by Major League Baseball, and if Stanton were to be replaced due to his quad injury and the Yankees go on to the World Series, he would not be eligible to return as an active player.
"He's still a player off the bench for us but not a player to start [in Game 4]," said general manager Brian Cashman. "We could always [replace him] if we felt that's something we want to do, but clearly we haven't done it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.