Soto feels 'pretty good' in return to lineup; Judge gets day off his feet

June 11th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- ’s long-awaited return to the Yankees’ lineup after a three-game absence came Monday night in Kansas City, but without ’s protection behind him.

Judge, the American League Player of the Week, was given a day off for the Yankees' 4-2 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, marking his first time this season that MLB’s home run leader (24) didn’t bat third for the Yankees.

Soto, who missed the three games against the Dodgers with inflammation in his left forearm after exiting during a rain delay Thursday against the Twins, batted second as the designated hitter Monday and went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.

Soto said he felt fine and swung without pain when he hit in the cage pregame Monday, which led to his inclusion in the lineup. But his return to the outfield will depend on how he feels Tuesday after returning to game action.

“[It went] pretty good,” Soto said. “I know I was DHing, but got to see a couple pitches out there, take some hacks. I felt pretty good.

“I have been doing a lot of treatments, I’ve been feeling good and I’ve been seeing a lot of improvement. It’s definitely not going to go away that quick. We will keep working on it and doing a couple things for the next week and see how it goes after that. It’s all about the next day.”

Manager Aaron Boone said the club wanted to get Soto back in a game before putting him in the outfield -- a decision solidified by a late arrival into Kansas City because of a night game Sunday.

“Especially with us getting in during the middle of the night, we wanted to make sure he gets out and playing again before throwing, just kind of a way to ease in,” Boone said pregame Monday.

The Yankees have been cautious with Soto, who played all 162 games with the Padres last season, but Boone said the right fielder did not have different discomfort when it came to swinging or throwing. Soto, who is batting .318 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 65 games, is expected to get time in Kauffman Stadium’s spacious outfield at some point during the four-game set.

Soto had been taking anti-inflammatory medication, and he went through another pregame workout per usual in Kansas City. Soto’s .425 on-base percentage trails only Judge (.436) for the best in the Major Leagues.

“We have based [Soto’s status] on how he is coming in each day, where the improvements are, how he is feeling,” Boone said. “So hopefully this will get him in and get him back out in the outfield this series.”

While Soto returned to the top of the order, the night also provided Judge with an opportunity to rest for the first time this season. Judge had one of the most dominant weeks of his career, hitting .500 with a 1.830 OPS in his past six games, but Boone stressed the importance of giving the slugger a chance to rest during a stretch of 13 games in 13 days.

“I had been marking this one down; obviously he’s been playing out of this world, but he had played every day and this time of the year … it’s important to get off ... especially getting in at 3 in the morning,” Boone said. “This is what I had in mind.

“I never like him out of the lineup, of course … but I feel like he needs a day.”

Anthony Rizzo, who sat out Sunday, was also not in the lineup Monday. The first baseman is 1-for-29 in June, and he has a .624 OPS in 64 games this season. Boone said the team will “circle up each night” with Rizzo to talk through the process, but that his absence will last “a couple days.”