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Judge increasing on-field work; Tanaka cleared

@BryanHoch
May 21, 2019

BALTIMORE -- Aaron Judge once again has a bat in his hands, as the slugger's on-field activity is continuing to increase, a most welcome development for a first-place Yankees club that is attempting to build on its advantage in the American League East. Judge stood in the batter's box to

BALTIMORE -- Aaron Judge once again has a bat in his hands, as the slugger's on-field activity is continuing to increase, a most welcome development for a first-place Yankees club that is attempting to build on its advantage in the American League East.

Judge stood in the batter's box to track pitches during Masahiro Tanaka's bullpen session on Tuesday at Camden Yards, then played catch and ran prior to the Yankees' game against the Orioles. Though Judge is still not ready to swing the bat, manager Aaron Boone said Judge seems to be heading in that direction.

"I know the last week, he's had a bat in his hand a little bit more," Boone said. "You know he's starting to feel like he's getting closer to that point. He's not there yet. He's definitely feeling better."

Out since April 20 due to what the Yankees have described as a significant left oblique strain, Judge has been playing catch since Sunday, according to Boone.

Tuesday's "dry" session against Tanaka reminded of a development last September, when Judge was recovering from a fractured right wrist and participated in a similar activity down the right-field line at the Oakland Coliseum.

"He's done that a couple of times in the past," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I think he was at his best this time."

Good to go
Tanaka has been cleared to return to the mound on Thursday, taking his regular place in the rotation for the series finale against the Orioles.

The right-hander's availability was in question after he sustained a right shin contusion that forced him to exit his last start, having been smoked by a 111.3 mph grounder off the bat of the Rays' Yandy Diaz.

"As far as baseball activities go, no problem at all," Tanaka said. "It was a pretty hard-hit ball that hit the shin. If you press on it, obviously, you'll feel it. ... My leg is fine. I'm pretty much ready to go."

Making moves
The Yankees optioned left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after Monday's 10-7 victory over the Orioles. New York signed right-hander David Hale to a Major League contract and added him to the 25-man roster prior to Tuesday's game.

To create room for Hale on the 40-man roster, infielder Miguel Andújar was transferred to the 60-day injured list.

Heat is on
Didi Gregorius did not play in his scheduled game at extended spring training on Tuesday. Boone said Gregorius had been slated to DH but showed signs of dehydration after playing five innings on Monday.

"We actually got him an IV and stuff," Boone said. "I talked to him a couple of hours ago. He's fine. We just decided to keep him out today and he'll be back in there tomorrow."

Bombers bits
James Paxton (left knee inflammation) is scheduled to throw about 60 pitches in a three-inning simulated game on Friday in Tampa, Fla. If that goes well, Paxton is expected to return to the rotation without requiring a Minor League rehab assignment.

Dellin Betances (right shoulder impingement) increased his throwing program to 120 feet on Tuesday, including some breaking balls on flat ground.

Troy Tulowitzki (left calf strain) ran sprints, hit on the field and took batting practice Tuesday at the Yankees' complex in Tampa.

• The Yankees are likely to utilize an opener on Friday, when they open a three-game series with the Royals in Kansas City.

This date in Yankees history
May 21, 1930: Babe Ruth hit three home runs in a 15-7 loss at Philadelphia. It marked Ruth's only regular-season three-homer game as a Yankee, though he accomplished the feat twice in the World Series and once at the end of his career with the Braves.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.