NEW YORK -- When searing pain jolted through Aaron Judge's left side on the afternoon of April 20, the slugger marched through the Yankees' dugout, barked an expletive and disappeared down the tunnel that leads to the clubhouse.
There was little question that Judge's season was about to be interrupted by what the team described as a "significant" strain of his left oblique, and even though there is still no official timetable for his return, he has remained a constant presence in the Yankees' universe.
"Aaron is obviously a special player, but just a special person and a special presence in our room," manager Aaron Boone said. "As upset as he was when he first got injured, one of the first conversations that I had with him was, 'You can still impact us in a big way.' And I absolutely feel like he has."
Judge has continued to travel with the Yankees while waiting for his injury to heal, and his on-field activity has increased with each passing week.
Most recently, Judge has advanced to hitting off a tee and throwing from the outfield while continuing to perform agility drills, range-of-motion work and following his strength program. He has also been impactful behind the scenes, Boone said.
"He's really important," Boone said. "He's a part of our hitters' meetings. He's a part of integrating players we've brought into the clubhouse to the team. He's a part of our postgame when we talk about a victory or whatever. So he's been a huge part of this and a huge presence in all of it for the guys in that room."
Though Judge would prefer to be batting second and playing right field, he has ably handled a modified role that paints him as part cheerleader, part coach.
"The good thing is, it's been fun watching them win, watching these guys go out there and get opportunities that normally they wouldn't get," Judge said. "They're exceeding expectations. A lot of people doubted us when a lot of us were getting hurt. We said from the beginning that the next guy will step up, and they have.
"It's been fun watching these guys. I wish I was out there grinding with them and going through all of this with them, but we've got a special team here. We knew it from Spring Training, and to see what these guys are doing right now, it's something special. I can't wait to get back."
Though Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre manager Jay Bell told reporters that he only expects Didi Gregorius to wear a RailRiders uniform for six games, suggesting that the shortstop may return as soon as Tuesday in Toronto, Boone said that Gregorius' stay with the Yankees' top farm affiliate could be extended due to inclement weather.
"We feel like he's pretty far along," Boone said. "Now it's just a matter of getting him to the point where he's playing shortstop back-to-back times for nine innings. He hasn't done any of that yet. Once he does that, then there's a chance he could probably be joining us here pretty soon … not on the homestand, but possibly sometime on the road trip."
Giancarlo Stanton (left calf strain) ran on Wednesday, including sprints, then hit in the batting cage and tossed. Stanton is expected to do more of the same on Thursday, according to Boone, and then could increase baseball activities to resume having live at-bats.
On the bump
With Boone among the Yankees personnel observing, Dellin Betances (right shoulder impingement) tossed 25 pitches in the Yankee Stadium bullpen on Thursday, continuing to make progress as he aims to return to the active roster in June.
"It went well today," Boone said. "He'll probably throw one more bullpen [session] in a couple of days and then assuming that goes well, [he] will go to face hitters and do a sim game or something like that. That could be as early as when we go on the next trip."
This date in Yankees history
May 30, 1956: Mickey Mantle nearly hit a fair ball out of Yankee Stadium, clipping the upper deck frieze in right field with a home run off the Senators' Pedro Ramos.