Luke Voit’s big Yankees return comes at perfect time

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TAMPA — The last time Luke Voit played in a game that mattered, the Yankees’ season ended with a Game 5 ALDS loss to the Rays.

Before that game, Voit tried to pull a Joe Namath and vowed, “We are going to win it.”

After that loss last October, Voit didn’t back down, saying on ESPN, “We will get them next year.”

So perhaps it’s fitting that Voit is set to make his season debut Tuesday night against the Rays after missing the first 34 games of the season while rehabbing from surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his left knee suffered during spring training.

Regardless of the timing, the Yankees could use him.

Coming off a 7-2 homestand that featured a sweep of Detroit and series wins over Houston and Washington, the offense has shaken off some of its early-season doldrums.

Still, first base has been a mess for much of the year, with Jay Bruce, Mike Ford and even Miguel Andujar seeing time there when DJ LeMahieu is elsewhere in the infield.

Voit, who led the majors with 22 homers during the abbreviated 2020 season, hit well during his rehab stint with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. It’s a good sign, although nearly everyone in the SWB lineup has put up gaudy numbers.

That includes Miguel Andujar, who was optioned back to SWB following Sunday’s win over Washington in The Bronx after going hitless in nine at-bats.

But Voit’s résumé suggests he’ll provide a significant boost to the lineup and his outspoken manner figures to also make an impact in the clubhouse.

Aaron Boone said Sunday he was “very’’ excited to get Voit back.

“He’s an impact hitter, an impact bat,’’ Boone said. “He adds a little bit more length, a little bit more heaviness to our lineup.”

That’s certainly true against Tampa Bay, a team that even Boone admitted “has obviously had our number a little bit here the last several months.”

The Rays took eight of 10 games from the Yankees last regular season before knocking them out of the playoffs. So far this season, the Yankees have dropped five of six to Tampa Bay, as the teams enter the series in a virtual tie for second place in the AL East behind the Red Sox.

Voit has historically pounded Rays’ pitching, with a 1.010 OPS in 118 regular-season plate appearances. And even at Tropicana Field, a tough place to hit, Voit has a career .906 OPS.

Voit’s ability to hit both righties and lefties should help balance out a lineup that has the best OPS in the American League when facing left-handers, but is better than only the Orioles in the AL when it comes to OPS against right-handers.

While Giancarlo Stanton has lately looked like he’s back in MVP form, the Yankees have waited most of the season for some of their other middle-of-the-order bats to get going, from Gleyber Torres, to Aaron Hicks, to Gary Sanchez.

The new ball being used by Major League Baseball has affected hitters differently and it remains to be seen what impact it might have on Voit, who — when healthy — is as dangerous as almost anyone in the Yankees’ lineup.

Voit struggled during spring training before being sidelined, but there’s little doubt the difference he’ll make in the lineup.

Perhaps the most significant challenge he and the Yankees will face will be keeping him healthy. He has already missed over a month this year. Last season, Voit was slowed by plantar fasciitis — although it didn’t hurt his productivity. But in 2019, the abdominal injury he suffered midseason made him less effective at the plate in the second half.

Beginning Tuesday, though, Voit will be back, feeling good — and maybe just what the Yankees need to alter their fortunes against the Rays.

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