Posted on September 14, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge is officially back, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely back. The Yankees activated Judge from the DL on Friday, exactly 50 days after he broke his wrist when he was hit by Royals pitcher Jakob Junis. However, Judge won’t be in the starting lineup just yet. He is not yet able to hit in games. For the time being, Judge will only be used as a defensive replacement or pinch-runner. Nevertheless, it’s a big step in the right direction following an absence that was more than twice as long as the Yankees initially expected.
“We feel like with the roster expansion, it makes some sense to have him available if there’s a spot where we can get him in to run the bases or play some defense,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “He’s certainly ready to do that.”
Judge has been able to participate in batting practice in recent days. He will continue to do that at least through the weekend. After that, the Yankees are likely to make a decision on whether Judge is ready to face live pitching. The club doesn’t want him to pinch-hit until he’s had a chance to face live pitching, so his return to the batter’s box is still several days away.
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“We’ll continue to ramp up from a hitting standpoint this weekend,” says Boone. “We’ve got a plan in place over the next few days that we’ll activate as we get closer, too. He’s getting real close to being an option for us.”
In the meantime, it’s tough to see Judge getting many opportunities as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement. After the Yankees traded for Andrew McCutchen in late August, their outfield defense looks strong with Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner playing alongside McCutchen. Outside of using Judge to pinch run simply to get him into a game, those opportunities may be few and far between as well. Nevertheless, the Yankees see that as better than nothing.
“He’s someone that you always want around impacting other people,” said Boone. “I just told him tonight, I’m excited that he’s going to have to have a jersey on and spikes on the bench. Hopefully, he can impact us a little bit more even.”
As long Judge is fully back before the postseason, he has a chance to be a difference maker for the Yankees in October. Before the injury, he was hitting .285 with an OPS of .947. His absence, especially the power he brings to the table, has had an obvious impact on the Yankees over the past seven weeks. New York has been unable to keep pace with the Red Sox in the AL East. They have also seen their lead atop the wild-card standings start to dwindle.
Of course, the Yankees can’t be sure that Judge will pick up where he left off before the injury. Wrist injuries tend to affect a hitter’s power. Seven weeks is also a long time to go without an at-bat. That actually makes Judge’s return a little more urgent. The Yankees will need to get him as many at-bats as possible so Judge can get his timing back before the postseason. With just over two weeks left in the regular season, time is quickly running out, even as Judge inches closer to a full return.