Some folks struggle to land on a defining feature, and then there’s Clint Frazier, who owns plenty of those already, thanks.
Hence the widespread concern Tuesday when the Yankees’ outfielder-designated clickbait ran into an outfield wall once again during a game against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. Because for sure, especially after the nightmare Frazier endured the last time he did that, no one wants head injuries to become one of his defining qualities.
The 26-year-old returned to action Thursday at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, as per a schedule drawn up before Tuesday’s scare, and he set off no red flags as he went 1-for-3 with a single, handling two fly balls to left field without issue in the Yankees’ 6-1 victory over the Phillies.
“It wasn’t as bad as I think people think [it was],” Frazier said after he departed the contest in the sixth inning. “I just went out to catch the ball and hit the wall pretty hard. I feel fine right now.
“Obviously I’m able to play in a game, so it’s not a concern. I’m not any more at risk hitting the wall than anyone else out there. I feel like I’m pretty resilient, so I feel good today.”
“I’m encouraged by everything we’ve seen,” Aaron Boone said before the game.
That this crash wasn’t televised and was witnessed only by people on site as well as club officials with access to in-house cameras only enhanced the angst about what transpired. No replay, no clarity, after all. Frazier, who said he has watched the video and found it “kind of blurry,” added, “From my understanding, it was more my left arm, left shoulder. If anything, my head hit a little bit, but it wasn’t noticeable if it did.”
The Grapefruit League’s outfield walls first gave Frazier trouble back in 2018, when he ran into the left-field wall (covered by a chain link fence) at the Pirates’ place in Bradenton. The concussion he suffered that day reverberated for two seasons, as he barely played in ’18 (15 major league games and 54 in the minors) and, while he hit impressively at the big-league level in ’19, his defense turned into a sizable liability.
In the wake of Frazier’s small-sampled 2020 turnaround, his dramatically improved work in the field having earned him a nomination for the Gold Glove Award as well as the starting left-field job with the Yankees, his Tuesday encounter with the wall set off alarms throughout the team’s fan base.
“I understand it,” Frazier said. “But going forward, I’m hoping to avoid causing other people some anxiety because of a play like that. But it’s not going to prevent me from playing hard. I just have to continue to play smart and try to be a little more aware of my surroundings at all times.”
With that in mind, Frazier went to work on Wednesday afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field. He explained: “I texted [Yankees outfield coach] Reggie [Willits] later in the day after the Lakeland game and told him, ‘I need to get better. I need to work with you out there.’ It’s early in camp and so we spoke. We came up with a plan.
“The biggest thing was to try to make sure my read was really aggressive. Making sure that when I get my read, I’m coming off the ball 100 percent rather than coasting at the ball. We were out there trying to just work on that and be efficient with the move and ultimately by doing that, in this area where the ball is getting close to the wall, I get to the wall first. That way I can come off of it at my pace.”
His wall expertise represents “a work in progress,” Frazier said, the totality of his progress encouraging. Let that work move forward to the point where we no longer have to discuss this issue with Frazier. Where we don’t even consider defining him by his relationships with outfield walls.