Judge has torn ligament in toe; still no timeline for return

June 24th, 2023

NEW YORK -- For the first time,  has referred to his right big toe injury as a torn ligament, further clouding a potential return date for the American League’s reigning Most Valuable Player.

Judge has been out of the Yankees’ lineup since June 3, when he crashed into the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium while making a spectacular catch. The club described Judge’s injury as a contusion and sprain; he has received two platelet-rich plasma injections, which are intended to speed healing.

"I don’t think too many people in here have torn a ligament in their toe,” Judge said on Saturday before the Yankees’ game against the Rangers. “If it was a quad, we’d have a better answer. If it’s an oblique or hamstring, we have answers and a timeline for that. With how unique this injury is, and it being my back foot -- which I push off of and run off of -- it’s a tough spot.”

Considering the severity of his injury, Judge’s progress has been slow. He has advanced to pool work and balancing exercises, but has yet to resume playing catch or hitting. Yankees manager Aaron Boone has said that Judge might do so by the end of this weekend.

“It’s something I mentioned to the training staff; I want to test it out a little bit,” Judge said. “Maybe play catch, maybe take some dry swings. I just want to kind of see where it’s at. I really wouldn’t say it’s me running on the field or doing a lot of baseball activity. It’s more me being passive, saying, ‘We’ve done a lot of stuff in here. We’re making some great progress. Let’s test it with what I’m actually going to be doing on the field.’”

Judge said that he still feels pain when he walks, and is unable to run at this time.

“If I could run, we’d be out there,” Judge said. “If I could run, I’d be out there playing defense, doing my thing. We’d figure out hitting. But if I can’t move, that’s the main hurdle we have to get over. … The biggest thing is, the big toe is what you push off the back side [when] hitting. I’ve got to make sure [there is] the balance, and being able to transfer the weight is going to be the biggest key. Once we get over that hurdle, then we get into running and hitting.”

Surgery has not been recommended, and Judge raised the possibility that he might seek a cortisone injection to mask his discomfort once he is closer to getting back on the field.

“It’s a little bit of a change,” said Dr. Spencer Stein, a sports orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Health who has not treated Judge. “Before, we were hearing a sprain. It’s all on a spectrum, but a strain would be a low-grade stretch or maybe even a minor tear. The fact that they’re using ‘tear’ now makes me think this is a little bit higher-grade injury and might require more time.”

Dr. Stein said that because Judge still cannot walk without discomfort, he suspects there is a partial tear that could take six weeks or more to heal.

“Timelines are always tough, but I would say optimistically, my best guess would be [that Judge could return] two months from the date of injury,” Dr. Stein said. “It’s reassuring that they’re not saying he needs surgery off the bat, but I’m cautiously optimistic because they’ve kind of changed the story and so the timeline has changed a little bit.”

Asked if he was targeting an August return, Judge declined to answer.

“I’m not giving you any timeline. There’s no need,” Judge said. “I’ve just got to get better and then I’ll be out there.”

Boone stopped short of saying that Judge would definitely return in 2023.

“That's an absolute. I can't say that about anyone. But yeah, I feel like he's going to be back,” Boone said. He added that his understanding is Judge has seen improvement over the past several weeks.

“He can do a little bit more each and every day, but not to the point where he's running or doing full baseball stuff yet,” Boone said. “We've just got to continue to wait and get him there. He's obviously as tough as they come. He wants to be back out there. We'll just keep trying to get him healed and treated -- and hope for the best.”

The Yankees have struggled mightily without Judge, losing 10 of 16 games since June 4, the first day he was out of the lineup with the toe injury. Their offense is last in batting average (.196), on-base percentage plus slugging (.603) and runs per game (3.1) over that span.

“The reality is, we're without him right now. We've got to find a way to get it done,” Boone said. “We have the people in there to get it done. We've just got to do a better job right now of putting pressure on the opposing pitchers and defense.”