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Judge injury gives Yankees a feeling of déjà vu

@MikeLupica
March 6, 2020

Groundhog Day is supposed to be one and done every year, first week of February. A month later, though, it is the Yankees who feel as if they’re the ones experiencing Groundhog Day, even though we’re now in the first week of March. Guys keep getting hurt. Stop me if

Groundhog Day is supposed to be one and done every year, first week of February. A month later, though, it is the Yankees who feel as if they’re the ones experiencing Groundhog Day, even though we’re now in the first week of March. Guys keep getting hurt. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, at least in the Yankees' universe.

Now, we have finally learned that what has kept Aaron Judge on the sidelines this spring is a stress fracture to his first right rib that the Yankees hope rest will cure, but it may ultimately require surgery. Already, No. 99 has missed 110 games over the past two seasons combined. Now, "All Rise" sits down for two weeks, and potentially much longer than that.

Last year, the Yankees set an MLB record with 30 players going on the injured list. In response to that, they have turned over their training staff this season, thinking that if they can send thirty guys to the IL and still win 103 games, imagine what's possible if they’re healthy. Except that three weeks from Opening Day, the Yankees are not healthy, starting with their best player.

Judge shut down for 2 weeks with fractured rib

The Yankees must feel as if Punxsutawney Phil, that famous groundhog they trot out every year up in Pennsylvania, should have been wearing pinstripes this year.

We are just two weeks into Spring Training games, and the Yankees have already lost: Luis Severino, who was supposed to be the No. 2 starter, to Tommy John surgery; James Paxton, who was supposed to be the No. 3 starter, to back surgery, even if he is hopeful that he can pitch by May; and Giancarlo Stanton, who played a grand total of 18 regular-season games in 2019, won’t be on the field for Opening Day because of a right calf sprain.

On Friday came the news about Judge. He is the face of the franchise. He became one of the faces of baseball in 2017, when he hit 52 home runs as a rookie. For now, he is the face of all the Yankees' injuries since the start of last season.

Everybody knows the stakes for the Yankees this season. Everybody knows how much money they spent on Gerrit Cole ($324 million, nine years, in case you don’t know), buying them the first true ace they’ve had since they signed CC Sabathia as a free agent before the 2009 season, which happens to be the last time they won a World Series. Because of how the Yanks survived all those injuries a year ago, and because they have Cole now, the Yankees started to look like a sure thing to defend their American League East title and come out of the AL to finally make it back to the World Series.

Not as much of a sure thing right now.

“It’s not as if we haven’t seen this movie before,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Friday morning from Tampa. “And by now, it’s not as if we don’t know how to handle injuries. Are you kidding? Last season, we felt like we’d bought a time share on the injured list.”

He paused and said, “Put it another way: It’s not like we’re not prepared.”

Understand something about Cashman: His attitude, in public or private, is never, "Woe is me." It wasn’t that way last season, and it isn’t that way now. The next-man-up character of the 2019 Yankees started with him and his manager, Aaron Boone. And guys did keep stepping up, all the way to the end of the American League Championship Series. Miguel Andújar went down early. Gio Urshela stepped up. Stanton never really got on the field, but Mike Tauchman made the most of his chance, and hitting 13 homers and knocking in 47 runs when he was the one in the outfield. Mike Ford got a chance at first and hit 12 homers in 50 games. The Yankees lost an epic number of players. Just not games.

“We’ve been through this,” Cashman said. “It’s not like any of us didn’t know how long the season was before last year. We just got reminded of how much can happen across a season as long as ours in baseball. And guess what? What looked like problems became opportunities, for a whole bunch of guys, all season long.”

I asked Cashman if there was one word he might use to describe what has happened to his baseball team over the past 12 months and he laughed.

“Interesting?” he said. “Challenging? In the end, it doesn’t matter. I just keep reminding myself that it is a long season and that we’re going to get these guys back this season, with the exception of Severino. And I have the same belief in the guys we’re going to ask to step up that I had in the guys who stepped up last year, with the same expectation that we’re going to fill up the win column.”

Is he concerned about Judge? Of course he is. Cashman was talking on Friday about all the tests Judge had undergone, before the doctors finally found the stress fracture.

“Maybe we’ll know something today,” Cashman said about Judge in the morning.

Now, he does. We all know. For now, this season looks lot like last season. Groundhog Day. Or just another bad one this spring for the Yankees.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.