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Clint Frazier turning his Yankees weakness into a strength

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Clint Frazier continues to execute above-average defensive plays in the outfield, ones he likely would not have made with regularity in past seasons with the Yankees.

With injuries to teammates and his offensive production landing Frazier (and keeping him) in the cleanup spot for the past dozen games, Aaron Boone gushed over Frazier’s improvement and two-way importance to the flailing Yankees in their unexpected fight to remain in playoff contention in the AL East.

Frazier would have batted fourth for the 13th consecutive game on Thursday — matching the longest streak by a Yankee in that spot since Matt Holliday (13) in June 2017 — but the opener of a suddenly critical four-game series against Baltimore was rained out. It will be made up as part of a doubleheader Friday beginning at 4:05 p.m.

“There’s no question that he’s a more finished product and a confident defender now, without question. But I think it goes back to the work that we’ve seen the last two years and you start from a foundation of this is a really good athlete with really good skills,” Boone said before the rainout was announced. “He runs well, he throws well, and this is consistent with the work we’ve seen.

Clint Frazier
Clint FrazierGetty Images

“If you go back even asking me questions about this the beginning of last year, middle of last year, when there’d be a mistake in a game, the work we were seeing was of an improving defender, of a defender getting more confident.”

The 26-year-old Frazier might never be a Gold Glove-caliber defender in the corner outfield spots, but his improvement with the glove has been a significant development for the Yanks, especially with All-Star right fielder Aaron Judge sidelined for all but one game since Aug. 11 with a calf injury.

Frazier has committed just one error in 37 chances over 20 defensive appearances this season. He made the proper break on the ball and deftly ran down a slicing liner off the bat of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. toward the right-field corner in Wednesday’s victory in Toronto, helping the Yanks (22-21) halt a five-game losing skid and reopen a 1 ¹/₂-game lead over the Orioles for third place in the American League East.

“I think it’s important just for the confidence, obviously,” Frazier said on a Zoom call after the game when asked about the Yanks’ first win since Sept. 4. “It’s important to get some people off our backs right now, obviously we’re not playing the way that we know that we can. We’re capable of really good things.”

The Yankees have thought the same of Frazier since he was acquired from Cleveland in the 2016 trade-deadline deal that sent reliever Andrew Miller to the Indians.

After contributing 16 home runs, 56 RBIs and a .771 OPS in 429 plate appearances from 2017-19, Frazier has made the most of his extended run the past several weeks. He is hitting a career-best .288/.406/.538 (.944 OPS) with five homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games.

Combine that with his improved defensive contribution, and Boone’s “finished product” designation becomes apropos.

“To his credit, he’s worked his tail off and now we’re starting to see it manifest in the game with better jumps, with better trusting of his reads, so he’s moving better at the ball because he trusts what he’s doing,” Boone said. “He’s played really well for us out there.”

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