The Captain is back: Yankees activate Judge off IL

July 29th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- All rise: has returned.

The Yankees activated the reigning American League Most Valuable Player from the injured list before Friday night's game against the Orioles, batting him second as the designated hitter.

It marked Judge’s first game since he tore a ligament in his right big toe crashing into the fence at Dodger Stadium on June 3. He went 0-for-1 with three walks as the Yankees lost 1-0 on Anthony Santander's walk-off home run in the ninth inning.

Judge’s return comes with a caveat: He admitted that he is “not 100 percent,” though he declined to place a numeric value on his health. Judge will utilize a protective shield on his shoe and has been fitted for orthotic inserts, which the Yankees believe will reduce the chances of aggravating an injury that still may require surgery after the season.

“My biggest concern was that I didn’t want to come back and make it worse, and then this is something that leads into next year and the following year,” Judge said. “We’re at a point where, talking with a couple of doctors, the ligament is stable. The last couple of MRIs didn’t really show much healing, but this one did. We’re in a really good spot right now.”

Judge has been increasing his on field activity in recent days, progressing from batting practice to running the bases and outfield play.

“If I’m able to do that,” Judge said, “then I’m able to play in the big leagues.”

Judge had two days of simulated activities at the club’s complex in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday and Wednesday before traveling back to New York late Wednesday, then joining the Yankees for their road trip to Baltimore, where they opened a crucial three-game showdown Friday.

“That was my rehab assignment right there,” Judge said. “I’ve done rehab assignments where I might not see a pitch to hit all game and might not get a fly ball all game. In this situation, we were able to control it a little better and stress it a little bit to see where we’re at.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that the final decision to activate Judge was not made until about 1 p.m. ET on Friday, when Boone, Judge and Michael Schuk, the team’s director of sports medicine and rehabilitation, met in the visiting manager’s office at Camden Yards.  

Boone said that he envisions playing Judge in right field soon, possibly on Saturday, but there will be more DH days than usual in the beginning. Boone added that Judge will likely sit for one game against the Orioles.

“I feel like we’re ready to go,” Boone said. “It’s definitely good to get him back in there, the presence he is in our lineup.”

In a corresponding move, New York optioned infielder Oswald Peraza to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Peraza has hit .173 with six RBIs in 19 games with the Yankees this season. He has slashed .261/.352/.495 with 12 homers and 11 steals in 45 games in Triple-A.

The Yankees have struggled without Judge, who was slashing .291/.404/.674 with 19 home runs and 40 RBIs through 49 games at the time of his injury.

New York went 19-23 from June 4 through Thursday, with the offense collectively posting a .670 OPS in Judge's absence, the fourth-lowest mark in the Majors in that span.

“As much as there’s urgency for us, we’ve got to be smart,” Boone said. “We’re talking to Aaron and making sure that he’s honest with his feedback about how he’s recovering, how he’s bounced back and obviously how the toe is doing.”  

At the time of Judge’s injury, the Yankees held a 2 1/2-game advantage as the third AL Wild Card. They entered play on Friday 2 1/2 games shy of a postseason spot.

“I’m just hoping to mix back into this lineup and be a supporting cast [member],” Judge said. “Go up there, drive guys in when I need to, get on base for the guys behind me. Just kind of get back to where we were before this incident happened.”