Notes: Tanaka returns; Judge talks travel

July 21st, 2020

NEW YORK -- The image of Giancarlo Stanton’s sizzling liner flashed through 's mind atop the Yankee Stadium mound on Tuesday afternoon, and when the Yankees right-hander watched his first pitch travel across home plate without incident, he exhaled. Back to business. Back to normal.

Tanaka faced hitters for the first time since his concussion on July 4, tossing 20 pitches. His next step will be to double that workload in another live batting practice session on Sunday, which will take place at the club’s alternate training site at PNC Field in Moosic, Pa.

“Being back on the mound and being able to pitch, without a doubt, it was a big step forward for me,” Tanaka said through a translator. “It tells that I'm progressing in the right direction.”

As he did on July 4, when Stanton laced a 112 mph liner off the right side of Tanaka’s head, the hurler opted to work without a protective screen. Tanaka explained that he would not have a screen in a game, so he had little interest in using one during practice.

“I thought he was strong,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “The fastball had life to it. I thought the stuff was pretty good. I thought it was just an important step of obviously getting back out there and facing hitters. I was really encouraged by what I saw.”

Thus far, the Yanks have named Gerrit Cole and James Paxton as probable starters for the first two games against the Nationals, with the series finale on Sunday being envisioned as a bullpen game. If all goes well during Tanaka’s next session, he could be slotted into the rotation on July 31 at home against the Red Sox.

“I think that kind of all depends on how I do in the next live BP,” Tanaka said. “If everything comes out OK, I should be ready to go. But I think it all depends on how I progress up to that point.”

On the road again
When baseball halted on March 12, opted to continue training at the Yankees’ facility in Tampa, Fla., reasoning that it would be the safest place to prepare for the season. He felt a similar level of comfort when Summer Camp opened at Yankee Stadium, and now the slugger said that it will be a challenge to begin traveling for the regular season.

“Leaving that bubble is going to be a little difficult, but this is what we signed up for,” Judge said. “We wouldn't have signed up for this if we weren't aware of the risk and what we had to face these next couple months. The Yankees have prepared us well; they've given us the do's and don'ts. As a team and organization, we're going to do our best to keep everybody safe.”

The Yankees will travel by train for their first road trip, leaving on Wednesday for Washington, D.C. Their first flight won’t come until Aug. 4, when they’ll fly from Baltimore to Tampa on a chartered Delta Air Lines jet. Players are prepared to be largely confined to their hotel rooms while on the road, bussed to the ballpark and then back.

“It's been a crazy year, affecting a lot of people, a lot of families,” Judge said. “I'm just excited to get back on the field and start playing the game that I love, and hopefully bring some positivity in this world with a lot of negativity going on.”

Decisions revealed
Michael King
was one of the standouts during Summer Camp, and Boone said on Wednesday that the 25-year-old right-hander has earned a spot on the Opening Day roster. King has been listed as a candidate to open the third game of the season, along with Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga.

“He really needed to show something, and I feel like he more than did that,” Boone said. “I feel like he's in a great spot right now. I feel like he's throwing the ball really well. I feel like he has a chance to really impact our club this year.”

Touted right-handers Deivi García and Clarke Schmidt will begin the season at the Yanks’ alternate training site. Boone said that the team believes the 21-year-old García needs more seasoning, as evidenced by a rough start on Monday against the Phillies, and indicated that Schmidt’s absence from the 40-man roster hurt his case for breaking camp with the club.

“For a guy that hasn't had a lot of Minor League experience yet, he's pretty polished,” Boone said of Schmidt. “Hopefully he'll go down there and continue to develop and pitch. He's very much in the conversation to be with us at some point this season. I wouldn't be surprised if he was -- and not only if he was, but if he's playing an important role for us.”

Open to conversation
While in Washington, Judge said that he expects the team to discuss what transpired on Wednesday evening in Oakland, when Giants manager Gabe Kapler and several players protested racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. Judge, who participated in a Black Lives Matter video last month, applauded the statement made by Kapler and others.

“What I thought [was] that's the beauty of America: freedom of speech and freedom to express yourself,” Judge said. “We've got a special platform being athletes, being able to speak our mind and speak to what's going on in this world. Some people express it online. Some people express it with words. Some people kneel. Whatever message that we try to give out here, we want to try to express unity and that we're all in this together.”

Boone said that he would be supportive if a member of his team chose to protest peacefully.

“I'll stand behind whoever has a strong feeling about it, one way or the other,” Boone said. “We've talked a little bit about it. We will talk a little bit more about things that are planned for Opening Day and beyond when we get together and meet in D.C. We'll see where it leads.”

Up next
The Yankees will participate in a late-afternoon workout on Wednesday at Nationals Park, preparing for Thursday’s regular-season opener.