TAMPA, Fla. -- When Aaron Judge was diagnosed with a fractured right rib this spring, the Yankees slugger spoke optimistically of being ready for the scheduled March 26 opener against the Orioles. General manager Brian Cashman said on Thursday that the team’s private estimates were less aggressive, believing behind closed doors that the summer months offered a more realistic timeline.
With baseball on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, Judge has been able to take advantage of extra weeks to rest than he might otherwise have allowed himself. As Judge continues to rehab regularly at the George M. Steinbrenner Field facility, Cashman said that he is optimistic the Yankees will have the 28-year-old outfielder available when action resumes.
“When it happened, I always felt that we wouldn't see Judge likely until the summertime,” Cashman said. “But Aaron Judge -- like most superstar athletes, they're invincible and they feel like they'll be back sooner than later. I think his pain threshold is [Derek] Jeter-like. He never complains. He always pushes through.”
Cashman participated Thursday on a Zoom call to benefit the Family Centers’ Emergency Family Assistance Fund, a Greenwich, Conn.-based organization that has issued more than 1,300 mini grants to help struggling families with food, rent and other necessities during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Yankees believe that Judge’s injury dates back to an attempted catch in the Yankee Stadium outfield last Sept. 18. He received pain-killing injections and played through the postseason, and he has acknowledged not resting much during the offseason, wanting to continue working in part due to the sting of losing to the Astros in the American League Championship Series.
Judge was one of the earliest-arriving Yankees for Spring Training, checking into the club’s player development complex in late January, but he shut down on-field hitting shortly after that due to discomfort in his right shoulder and right pectoral area. Multiple MRIs, bone scans, X-rays and CT scans were taken before the fractured rib was announced on March 6.
“He never shares if something's bothering him,” Cashman said of Judge, “so obviously when he did show up in the spring and said something has been bothering him, it was an ‘uh-oh’ moment because he really does not ever complain about anything. He didn't complain in the wintertime, either. But once the testing came back, once they eventually found it, the timeframe looked like it was going to take us more likely into summer.”
By measure of comparison, Cashman said that former Yankees utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. had a similar injury during his career that required four months for a full recovery. Part of the issue, Cashman said, is that the blood flow required for healing is restricted to the injured area.
While Judge has not resumed hitting or throwing, Cashman said that Judge has recently undergone several imaging tests that show enough progress to discourage the option of surgically removing the rib, as manager Aaron Boone had suggested in early March.
“Once we resume play, we're excited to believe that he's going to rejoin us at full capacity,” Cashman said of Judge. “He wants to play as much as anybody, and we look forward to getting him back in the lineup.”
In other injury updates, Cashman said that left-hander James Paxton (back surgery in February) has been throwing simulated games near his Wisconsin home and would have been expected to be ready for big league games sometime in May or June.
“He feels great,” Cashman said. “We’re fortunate to know that one of the better starting pitchers in the game, his issues look like they've resolved. It's just simply tuning up and getting ready.”
Outfielder Aaron Hicks (Tommy John surgery in October) has been continuing his physical therapy near his Arizona home, taking non-contact swings from both sides of the plate and throwing. Hicks had been expected to be an option for big league games sometime in June or July.
“I think him playing center field for the New York Yankees this summer is a legit option, as expected,” Cashman said. “His timeframe is currently going as planned. We're excited to get him back, because I think he's one of the better center fielders in the game, both offensively and defensively.”