Fi­nally, Yanks get to see how much hia­tus helped slug­ger

New York Daily News - - SPORTS - KRISTIE ACKERT

Now we get to see what the Yan­kees did on their un­for­tu­nate, three­month coro­n­avirus-im­posed break. Play­ers have posted their work­out videos and com­ments on how they used the three months since spring train­ing was sud­denly shut down.

Most im­por­tantly for Yan­kees fans, it will be a chance to see if Aaron Judge is ready.

The Yan­kee slug­ger was held out of spring train­ing with a shoul­der in­jury that turned out to be a frac­tured rib suf­fered in Septem­ber. The 28-year old, how­ever, told Sports Illustrate­d last week that he’s been able to “hit a lit­tle bit.”

“This break has al­lowed some of the play­ers, in­clud­ing my­self, to get healthy,” Judge told SI. “Luck­ily, I’ve been able to go into our fa­cil­ity in Tampa Bay with five or six team­mates to work out, get on the field and run around and hit a lit­tle bit. For us, it’s kind of been busi­ness as usual and has felt like an ex­tended spring train­ing.”

Judge wasn’t the only one who needed this time to get healthy. James Pax­ton, who had back surgery in Fe­bru­ary, Aaron Hicks, who had Tommy John surgery in Oc­to­ber, and Gian­carlo Stan­ton, who suf­fered a strained calf in spring train­ing, were also able to heal dur­ing the shut­down. They are ex­pected to be able to be­gin “Sum­mer Camp,” (as the Yan­kees are call­ing it) on Fri­day ready to go.

Judge’s time­line, how­ever, has been less clear.

He had been shut down from hit­ting be­fore spring train­ing had be­gun with what was de­scribed as a shoul­der in­jury. It took weeks into spring train­ing and dozens of tests to find the bro­ken rib on his right side. The rec­om­men­da­tion at that time was to rest, see if the bone healed and try to avoid surgery. Two weeks later, Judge re­vealed he had also been deal­ing with a par­tially col­lapsed lung. As of May 22, he was still not hit­ting, ac­cord­ing to hit­ting coach Mar­cus Thames in an in­ter­view with YES’ Mered­ith Marakovits.

Judge was one of the sev­eral play­ers who re­mained in Tampa af­ter MLB shut down spring train­ing. He was able to use the fa­cil­i­ties at Ge­orge M. Stein­bren­ner Field to re­hab and work­out for the past three months.

He feels that will give him and the Yan­kees an ad­van­tage.

“I hon­estly can’t wait to get back out there,” Judge said. “It’s go­ing to be an ex­cit­ing year. … As a Yan­kee, we’ve been out there on the field ev­ery day stay­ing in shape. I feel like other guys haven’t been as lucky to have ac­cess to a field or fa­cil­ity, which could post prob­lems. But I think this three-week spring train­ing we are about to have will al­low guys to get into game shape soon.”

Five months ago, the Yan­kees came into the 2020 sea­son as the fa­vorites to win the AL. That is ob­vi­ously in part be­cause of the ad­di­tion of Ger­rit Cole, but also based on the ex­pec­ta­tions for Judge and the young core that won 103 games last sea­son.

Judge was also com­ing into the sea­son with a chip on his shoul­der. He was an­gry about the rev­e­la­tions over the win­ter that the Astros, the team that had blocked the Bombers from the World Se­ries in 2017 and 2019, were cheat­ing. Judge said that dis­ap­point­ment stung and fired his work­outs in the off­sea­son.

He also had some­thing per­sonal that he needed to show. In his three pre­vi­ous bigleague sea­sons, he had never had two healthy or strong halves.

Af­ter hit­ting .329 with 30 homers in 84 games in the first half of 2017, Judge went to the All-Star Game and won the Home Run Derby, then im­me­di­ately be­gan to strug­gle. He was 1-for-21 in his first five games fol­low­ing the All-Star break and in his first 55 hit .185 with 11 homers and 84 strike­outs.

It was not un­til the next spring he ad­mit­ted a shoul­der in­jury that re­quired off­sea­son surgery.

In 2018, Judge lost most of the sec­ond half of the sea­son to a bro­ken wrist. Af­ter hit­ting 25 homers and driv­ing in 60 runs in the first 93 games, he played in only 19 in the sec­ond half. In 2019, Judge missed 54 games af­ter strain­ing his oblique.

The next few weeks will an­swer plenty of ques­tions on the progress of Aaron Judge. GETTY

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