Number 99 became No. 13 Saturday as Aaron Judge joined the ever-expanding injury list that has gutted the Yankees. Judge suffered a strained left oblique while lining a single to rightfield in the sixth inning of a 9-2 victory over the Royals at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees had no immediate estimate of how long Judge will be sidelined. He was sent to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital for an MRI and further evaluation, and usually optimistic manager Aaron Boone seemed to be preparing everyone for a protracted absence by the face of the franchise.
Injuries to the oblique muscle, which is located on the outer surface of the sides of the abdomen, typically take several weeks to heal.
“Look, it's Aaron Judge,’’ Boone said. “He’s one of the great players in the game. Such a key figure to our club. Not only just between the lines, obviously, but what he means to us in the room. He'll be part of continuing to lead us forward as a group. This is not a time where we're going to feel sorry for ourselves.’’
Boone spoke with Judge before he left for the hospital. ‘’Obviously upset,’’ Boone said. “He's the ultimate teammate. He feels bad for the guys...He’ll deal with it and come in there [Sunday] and be one of the leaders of the club that he always is and hopefully we get enough news that it's shorter rather than longer. But right now he’s obviously a little upset.’’
Judge appeared to grab his left side after making contact on his single and grimaced while jogging slowly to first base, where he was replaced by pinch runner Tyler Wade “It was just the swing,’’ Boone said. “First time he felt it.’’
The Yankee Stadium crowd was hushed.
“You never want to see that and you know he doesn't come out of games,’’ said Giancarlo Stanton, who is on the injured list with a left biceps strain. “So we’ll just wait and see what we got.’’
Given the plethora of injuries, Boone was asked if he’s lost some confidence in the Yankees' strength and conditioning staff. “No, and I know how much we pour into it as far as studying it, trying to understand it, trying to keep our guys healthy, strong, fit, flexible, all these things that a lot of people pour a lot of time in,’’ he said. “I do believe a lot of it is kind of happenstance, very unfortunate, obviously. It doesn't mean that we won't continue to vigilantly kind of assess how we do things...that never stops. As far as my confidence in our guys, that hasn't changed.’’
For now, the starting outfield will have Clint Frazier in left, Brett Gardner in center and Mike Tauchman in right. The Yankees said they expect infielder Thairo Estrada to replace Judge on the roster.
Before Judge’s injury, Boone’s biggest issue had been the replay review that nullified a three-run homer by Gleyber Torres in the third inning. Torres’ long fly to left seemed headed for the seats, but a fan reached over the wall and obstructed six-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon’s leaping attempt to make the catch. The drive originally was ruled a home run but was determined to be fan interference after a review.
Boone was automatically ejected for arguing with a replay decision, “Obviously, you can’t go out and argue a review,’’ he said. “Totally understand it’s not their [the umpires'] call. I just wanted to let everyone know how bad of a call I thought it was. Taking a three-run homer off the board in that spot on what would have been a miracle catch in my eyes, but I understand the call and I understand the ejection.’’
Torres appreciated Boone’s support. “I think it was a home run. I saw the video,’’ Torres said. “I think he don't have a chance to catch the ball. But I can't control that, we can't control that. I just wait to next time, try to hit the ball a little more far ... He [Boone] tried to help me. We can't do anything. It’s a rule.’’
Aside from Judge's injury, it was a good day for the Yankees, who got home runs from Judge, Frazier, Tauchman and DJ LeMahieu. Tauchman, who has three homers and eight RBIs in the last four games, lined a three-run homer to rightfield and LeMahieu homered to right-center on the next pitch in the fourth inning.
Frazier, who has five homers in 16 games, had three of the Yankees' 14 hits, as did Gio Urshela. Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka (2-1) had some control problems, walking three, but allowed one run in seven innings.
Judge is hitting .288 with five homers and 11 RBIs and had been one of three Yankees to have played in the first 20 games this season. He missed 45 last season with a chip fracture of the right wrist after being hit by a pitch thrown by Royals righthander Jakob Junis. The Yankees went 25-20 in his absence. He was injury-free in 2017 when he hit a rookie-record 52 homers and was voted the American League Rookie of the Year.
Boone expects the Yankees to get through the latest and perhaps most significant blow to the team. ”I truly feel like it's going to make it that much sweeter having gone through all this,'' he said. "We have a resilient group in there...We’ll find our way through this. As I told Aaron before he left [for the hospital], it's going to make it all the much more sweeter when we get to where we want to go.’’
If Aaron Judge goes on the injured list, he’ll be in good company with 12 teammates:
Miguel Andujar, right labrum tear
Greg Bird, left torn plantar fascia
Dellin Betances, right shoulder bone spur
Jacoby Ellsbury, left hip surgery
Didi Gregorius, Tommy John surgery
Ben Heller, right elbow surgery
Aaron Hicks, lower back strain
Jordan Montgomery, Tommy John surgery
Gary Sanchez, left calf strain
Luis Severino, right shoulder inflamation
Giancarlo Stanton, left biceps
Troy Tulowitzki, left calf strain