TAMPA, Fla. -- Aaron Judge has been unable to participate in on-field batting practice this spring, and that will continue for at least two more weeks after the Yankees slugger was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his first right rib that might require surgery, manager Aaron Boone said Friday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The Yankees plan to offer Judge two more weeks of rest before re-evaluating his progress with a CT scan. Judge said that he believes the rib injury dates to an attempted catch Sept. 18 against the Angels at Yankee Stadium, which may partially explain why the outfielder recently has been mentioning discomfort in his right shoulder and right pectoral area.
“At least we have an answer, so now we can start working on a solution,” Judge said. “But overall, I’m just mad. I want to be out there with my team, especially in Spring Training. We have a good team here, a good club. We have a lot of goals here in 2020, and I want to be out there. But the first thing is you’ve got to get this healed, get it right and then we can move forward.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Judge had about a dozen exams performed, including multiple MRIs, bone scans and X-rays, before a CT scan taken this week revealed the stress fracture. There is a chance Judge will require surgery to remove the rib, a procedure that is similar to what has been recommended to players exhibiting signs of thoracic outlet syndrome.
“I wouldn’t say that’s off the table, but you wouldn’t want to do that right now, especially if the bone is healing,” Boone said.
Judge said that he is optimistic that rest alone will be allow the injury to heal. He has been told that his recovery is already “in the middle ground.”
One of the Yankees’ earliest arriving players this spring, Judge initially shut down his on-field hitting in late January after experiencing shoulder soreness at the club’s Minor League complex. He recently resumed throwing at distances up to 120 feet but complained of pectoral discomfort during indoor hitting against coaches last week.
“A fracture to the first rib is quite rare,” said Dr. Charles Kim, a physiatrist and pain management specialist at NYU Langone Sports Health who has not treated Judge. “If it is not displaced, usually rest and time are the best treatment, and avoidance of stresses to the area. Usually, I recommend six to eight weeks of time for a rib fracture to heal before gradually resuming physical activities.”
Judge said he had tests performed in September, when he felt pain radiating from his neck and shoulder areas. No fracture was found then, and Judge said that a cortisone injection allowed him to stay on the field, hitting .320 (8-for-25) through the end of the regular season and .265 (9-for-34) in nine postseason games.
“I felt a crack. I felt a pop,” Judge said. “But you’ve got adrenaline flowing, you’ve got the postseason coming up, and that's the main concern. I want to be out there on the field. All the strength tests I did, everything was coming back all right, and I just knew there was some pain in the shoulder. I got a couple shots and got ready for the postseason.”
Judge played in 155 games during his 2017 American League Rookie of the Year campaign, hitting an AL-leading 52 home runs and finishing second in the AL MVP Award chase. Injuries limited him to 228 of a possible 338 games in the last two years: 112 regular-season games in '18 and 102 last season, plus 14 postseason games over that span.
With Judge and Giancarlo Stanton (right calf strain) both unlikely to be ready for the March 26 season opener at Baltimore, the Yanks’ outfield projects to feature Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner, Mike Tauchman and perhaps Miguel Andújar. Though Judge has been told that he will not make it back for Opening Day, Boone said that he is still not ready to rule out Judge being ready early in the season.
“I'll never put anything past Aaron,” Boone said. “You guys can speculate all you want on when it is. First things first is two weeks from now. … We’ll put together a plan for what he's going to be able to do in the weight room, continuing to keep his cardio going and doing things that don't aggravate or create any other symptoms of the pain that he's having.”
A year after setting Major League records by having 30 players serve 39 stints on the injured list, the Yankees have been hit hard by injuries again this spring.
Starting pitcher Luis Severino will miss the entire season and part of next year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, and fellow starter James Paxton is likely out until June as he recovers from back surgery. Stanton strained his right calf during workouts in late February and has resumed running on an anti-gravity treadmill, but he is not performing baseball activities.
“You feel for the players,” Boone said. “I know how bad they want to be out there helping the club. We'll handle it as a group. We're made for dealing with adversity. Our group is very capable of handling that. We have a lot of confidence in everyone we have. We'll tackle it head-on, support our guys that are injured and try to get them back as soon as possible.”