NEW YORK -- As the Yankees made the trek back up to the Bronx from St. Petersburg for the start of a seven-game homestand, they brought along a player whose return they have been eagerly anticipating.
Judge said on Monday that he has fully recovered from the right hip sprain that has kept him out of action since April 27, adding that he hasn’t felt anything wrong with the hip for almost half that time.
“I’m ready to go,” Judge said. “Glad it’s over with and ready to get back to this team. Even though we lost the series in Tampa [against the Rays], we played a pretty good series with guys battling, competing from the top down. … I’m excited to get back with these boys.”
Judge was placed on the IL on May 1 (retroactive to April 28) after exiting the Yankees’ April 27 game against the Rangers early due to the lingering effects of his headfirst slide into third base on a stolen-base attempt against the Twins the day before in Minnesota.
When asked if he regretted going for that steal amid a five-run second inning in an eventual 12-6 win, Judge was direct.
“Not at all. Because we’re facing a team that put 11 runs on us in [almost] one inning,” he said. “We were up five at the time, but any way I could get to third base there helps out [Anthony] Rizzo, who was swinging a hot bat. I just know if he put the ball in play to the right side, that’s going to be an extra run.
“I’d steal again. I just wouldn’t slide headfirst.”
Judge, of course, was referring to the Yankees’ first matchup of the season against the Twins on April 13, when Minnesota scored nine first-inning runs en route to an 11-2 victory -- the same Twins team that won their first season series against the Yanks since 2001.
That competitive fire is among the most important qualities Judge brings to the Yankees. It’s also why he opted to play the day after the injury, knowing that it was the opener of a four-game series against the American League West-leading Rangers in Texas.
“They wanted to give me that day off, but I wanted to be out there for the team, wanted to keep it rolling,” Judge said. “I want to play every single game. I feel like I’m pretty cautious with things. That was just a fluke thing that happened.”
Judge went through his normal pregame routine Monday, including taking batting practice on the field. During his time away from the team, he has been hitting off a machine, running and throwing, making sure that he would have no restrictions upon his return.
“I feel like you do more work on the IL than you do during the regular season,” he joked.
Before Judge headed back down the dugout tunnel, he made sure to sign autographs and take photos for the kids who arrived early, some of whom were wearing his No. 99 jersey.
“MVP’s back,” said Yankees manager Aaron Boone. “It’ll be fun to write his name in the lineup. There’s just that presence he has being our leader, certainly one of our leaders, and the guys look to him. I think there is an intangible element to him being back in there as well.”
The Yankees, who went 4-6 in Judge's absence, certainly hope that having him back will provide a boost to their injury-riddled roster. They have seen firsthand the impact activating a player off the IL can have with the arrival of Harrison Bader, who has hit .389 with a 1.222 OPS since his season debut on May 2.
They expect a similar lift, if not more, from their captain. He knows it, too.
“I feel like the guys will be excited, but I’m just happy to be back. I don’t like sitting out,” Judge said. “I love rooting on my teammates, but I’d rather be rooting them on while I’m on the field with them.”