Soto relieved as Yankees get 'good news' on star

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NEW YORK — The Yankees avoided a season-changing setback Friday when testing on superstar Juan Soto’s left forearm and elbow revealed just inflammation and no structural damage.

Manager Aaron Boone said Soto will avoid the injured list and is “day-to-day.” He did not play in Friday night’s series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Boone called the test results “good news.” Soto called them a “relief.”

“It was what I was looking for,” Soto said after New York’s 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Dodgers. “Just trying to see what was really going on in my elbow, and we were having a little bit of thinking of what it was going to be like and how it was going to come out. And thank God it came out our way.”

Before Friday’s game, Boone said Soto could be available off the bench. And, as the game remained scoreless in the late innings, it appeared as though Soto was a pinch-hit option. Soto took to the dugout’s top step wearing batting gloves, with a bat in hand. He was seemingly prepared for an opportunity.

But he never entered the game. He didn’t even take a swing to prepare. It turned out that Soto, according to Boone, wasn’t available to play in any situation.

Boone smiled when asked if Soto was a decoy.

“He was just, I think, feeling the moment there a little bit,” Boone said.

It was the first game Soto missed this season after starting in right field in each of the Yankees’ first 64 contests.

“I’m trying to do my best,” Soto, 25, said. “It’s tough to see the game from the bench, and I don’t like that. So I try my best to be out there. I try to help the team.”

Soto left Thursday’s win over the Minnesota Twins during a 56-minute rain delay with what the Yankees termed “forearm tightness.” Soto later said he had been dealing with the discomfort for over a week, but it didn’t affect him when he threw a baseball or swung a bat.

Boone said Soto won’t need an injection, just medicine to treat the inflammation. The manager said he didn’t know if Soto would wait until he is symptom-free before returning to the lineup or would play through discomfort. Soto said he hopes identifying the issue will lead to erasing the discomfort.

“I don’t think I have to be grinding through it the whole year if we do the right thing and we do it the right way,” Soto said. “Definitely if we didn’t know what was going on in my elbow and we didn’t know, then maybe we’d definitely be grinding through the whole year. But now that we know what it is, we can treat it and we can do the right thing to get it going. I think I’ll be fine.”

Boone said having Soto play as designated hitter — something he hasn’t done yet this season — is possible when he returns. When, exactly, is unclear. Soto said his return to the lineup depends on how he feels when he reports to the ballpark.

Soto’s durability and production have led an MVP-caliber season in his first year as a Yankee and final campaign before free agency. The four-time All-Star is slashing .318/.424/603 with 17 home runs and 46 walks to 48 strikeouts. He began Friday tied with teammate Aaron Judge in fWAR (4.1) while leading the American League in batting average and on-base percentage.

Losing Soto for a prolonged period would have been debilitating for an offense that has helped fuel MLB’s best record behind him and Judge, another top AL MVP candidate. For the Yankees, Soto exiting Thursday brought back memories of Jasson Dominguez’s situation last September when he reported right elbow pain before an MRI revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament that required season-ending Tommy John surgery.

The team avoided the worst with Soto on Friday.

“There was a little unknown, but all you can do is say a prayer and hope for the best and we got the best news we could today,” Judge said. “He’s a big part of this team. We’ve been saying it all year.”

Also on Friday, Boone said right-hander Gerrit Cole will make his second rehab start Sunday for Double-A Somerset. Cole, sidelined since mid-March because of nerve irritation and edema in his right elbow, made his first rehab start Tuesday for Somerset, allowing two singles and no runs across 3⅓ innings.

Boone said earlier this week that Cole would likely make at least two more minor league rehab starts, which would include Sunday, putting him on track for a possible return to New York’s rotation in mid-to-late June.

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