BALTIMORE — Aaron Judge is back.
The Yankees activated their captain on Friday, just in time for a three-game series with the first-place Orioles. The team demoted Oswald Peraza to make space for Judge, who has been out since June 3 after tearing a ligament in his right big toe while making a spectacular catch at Dodger Stadium.
The Yankees also designated Willie Calhoun for assignment on Friday.
The Yankees decided to activate Judge without sending him on a rehab assignment. Instead, he’s returning after three sim games, two of which came earlier this week in Tampa. An additional MRI, administered over the last two days, showed healing in the ligament, and the Yankees and Judge decided it was time to come back after talking with doctors and trainers.
“It’s not 100%,” Judge said Friday before declining to give a number. “I don’t think it will be 100% until the end of the year. Our biggest goal is just getting to a point where I can play, I can tolerate it, go out there and play back-to-back games, play in the field, run the bases, do all that, and I think we’ve gotten to that point.
“I didn’t want to come back and make it worse, and then this is something that leads into the next year and the following year.”
Aaron Boone used Judge as his designated hitter and batted him second Friday, but the manager said playing the field was an option. Judge might play the outfield this weekend, but Boone also plans on getting him a day off in Baltimore.
Boone added that he, Judge, team doctors and trainers will talk about how the slugger should proceed as he continues to build up. Boone will watch how Judge is moving, too.
“We haven’t laid out a plan,” Boone said, “because we want to listen to how his body’s responding and how that feedback is.”
While Boone admitted that there’s “urgency” facing the Yankees, he claimed that circumstances – including series against Baltimore and Tampa, the trade deadline, and the Yankees’ offensive woes – didn’t dictate the timing of Judge’s return.
Judge’s injury left the Yankees without the reigning MVP for nearly two months. The team’s lineup scuffled as a result. The Yankees were 29th in average, 26th in on-base percentage, 22nd in wRC+ and 21st in runs during Judge’s absence.
Judge, in 49 games, has slashed .291/.404/.674 with 19 home runs, 40 RBI, a 187 wRC+ and 2.7 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs. He leads the team in all three slash line statistics, home runs, wRC+ and WAR.
“We’re better with Aaron Judge in our lineup no matter what stage he’s at,” hitting coach Sean Casey told the Daily News, “but we have to have reasonable expectations and let him get here and get his legs under him for a couple games.”
The last-place Yankees, while 54-48 overall, have been a sub-.500 team without Judge, going 19-23 during his most recent stint on the injured list. The Bombers also struggled offensively while posting a 4-6 record when Judge spent time on the shelf with a hip injury earlier in the season.
“No, I just wanted to get back,” Judge said when asked if he felt pressure to rejoin the team. “Anytime you’re sitting out, even if we were winning and we got to an eight-game lead in the division or if we were 10 games out of it, I want to be back out there battling with the guys. I want to be there when times are tough and I want to be there when we’re rolling.”
Judge returns with the Yankees 2.5 games out of the American League’s third and final wild card spot. The Rays, Astros and Blue Jays all held wild card positions as of Friday, while the Red Sox were 1.5 games out. The Angels were three games out and directly behind the Yankees.
By deciding to keep Shohei Ohtani and trading for Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López, the Halos have already established themselves as buyers as they chase a playoff berth. The Yankees, meanwhile, felt they were in a position to buy prior to their series with Baltimore, but they were taking their trade deadline approach day-by-day entering the weekend.
The team’s performance against the Orioles, which Judge could aid, may impact what the Yankees do before Tuesday’s deadline, which coincides with a three-game series against the Rays.
In the meantime, the Yankees will keep a close eye on Judge, who plans on wearing an EVOShield at the plate. He previously said he was going to use orthotics as well.
Judge and the Yankees have repeatedly said that he will have to manage some pain and discomfort, but all involved appear happy with the progress his toe has made. The hope is that it continues to show improvement.
“Anytime you go out there, you’re taking some risk because things can happen,” Boone said. “But there is a feeling that it would take another traumatic incident to hurt it, as opposed to just the basic wear and tear setting him back. So that was kind of the consensus feeling from a lot of doctors.”
Source: Berkshire mont