Yankees promote Gittens, hope for jolt at first base

NEW YORK (AP) — The Yankees have promoted slugging prospect Chris Gittens from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hoping the hulking 27-year-old can provide a jolt at first base in his first turn in the majors.

New York entered Saturday night’s game against Boston with its first basemen hitting .174 with five homers. The group’s .531 OPS ranks 29th in the majors, ahead of only Cleveland.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Gittens was set to bat sixth and make his major league debut against the Red Sox. He received a call from Yankees senior director of player development Kevin Reese late Friday night informing him of the promotion.

“I was shocked,” Gittens said.

Luke Voit led the majors as the Yankees’ first baseman in 2020 but has played in just 12 games this season. He had left knee surgery in March and missed the start of the season, and he’s currently back on the injured list with a right oblique strain.

DJ LeMahieu and Mike Ford have split the bulk of the playing time at first, with LeMahieu also playing second and third. Ford was demoted to Triple-A this week after hitting .133 with a .561 OPS.

Gittens was a 12th-round pick by New York in 2014, and he’s shown impressive power despite a slow climb up the minor league ladder. The right-handed hitter batted .265 with a .476 slugging percentage over seven seasons, including .283 with four homers, a .585 slugging percentage and a 1.071 OPS this season with the RailRiders.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he’ll go day by day with Gittens’ playing time.

“He’s earned this opportunity,” Boone said. “He can continue to earn more.”

Gittens spend last summer at home in Texas, keeping sharp during the pandemic shutdown by hitting off a tee he purchased at Walmart and set up with a net on the roof a parking garage.

“My biggest thing was be ready,” he said.

Like many sluggers, Gittens has struggled at times to limit the swing-and-miss in his game. He said conversations this spring with All-Stars Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton helped.

“They get walked a lot, they get thrown junk a lot, and they don’t bow down to it,” he said.

Gittens is wearing No. 92, the second highest number worn by a Yankee behind Aaron Judge’s 99 — Brian Bruney in 2009 and Charlie Keller in 1952 also wore 99.

Right-hander Corey Kluber (strained shoulder) was transferred to the 60-day injured list to make room. The move was expected, with Kluber likely out until at least late July.

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