TAMPA, Fla. — The Yankees and Aaron Judge at last have their answer on the mysterious shoulder and chest pain the rightfielder has been feeling for the last month.
The answer involved neither Judge’s shoulder nor his chest — it's a rib — but it is something that potentially puts his season in jeopardy.
Aaron Boone disclosed before Friday night’s game against the Orioles that testing showed Judge has a “stress fracture of the first right rib,” an injury dating to last September, when he made a dive for a ball in the outfield.
“You could do surgery at some point to remove the rib, so I wouldn’t say that’s off the table,” Boone said. “But you wouldn’t want to go do that right now, especially if the bone is healing.”
To determine that, the Yankees will wait two weeks and “reassess,” Boone said.
“Yeah, just hearing how it’s healing, I’m happy with that,” Judge said of how confident he is that he’ll be able to avoid surgery. “That’s why it’s two weeks away, then I see how far away it is and then hopefully in three weeks, four weeks, I’ll start getting back into moving everything.”
If surgery is deemed necessary, Boone indicated the procedure would be similar to thoracic outlet syndrome surgery — which can involve the removal of the first rib — in which case Judge would be out for some time.
Judge, shut down in early February after experiencing discomfort in his right shoulder and pectoral area, started undergoing tests last Saturday and ended up going through 10 to 12 of them, Boone estimated, before a CT scan discovered the fracture on Thursday.
“My understanding is it’s a hard thing to find because you’re not going to find it in [regular] MRIs or different scans,” Boone said of why it took so long to diagnose. “It was this particular CT scan that ultimately found it. It was just, for whatever reason, an injury that’s difficult to spot in kind of the normal battery of tests that you’d have.”
Almost as soon as it was delivered, the news produced more criticism of the Yankees’ training and medical staffs, which were overhauled in the offseason after the club put a record 30 players on the injured list in 2019. It's another injury that dates to 2019 (Luis Severino had Tommy John surgery Feb. 27 to repair a UCL tear that produced symptoms last October).
Judge traced his issues to the fifth inning of a game against the Angels last Sept. 18 when he jammed the shoulder on the diving attempt. He finished that game but sat out the next night. Judge did return after missing the one game — an MRI on the shoulder came back clean — and played the rest of the regular season and every postseason game, though with consistent discomfort.
“Going into the postseason, I didn’t want to miss that, so it was kind of, get a shot and let’s get rolling basically,” Judge said.
Tests after the season also came back clean, but the primary areas tested were his shoulder and neck area. Why? Because that’s where Judge said the majority of pain was.
“You give them the symptoms, tell them what’s wrong and they work off of what you say," he said.
Judge then took very little time off before starting his offseason work.
“I think the consistent swinging and weightlifting throughout the whole offseason really didn’t give it the chance to [heal],” he said. “If somebody breaks their leg, they’re in a cast, they’re immobilized for a couple weeks or months, you give the bone a chance to heal. But me, [angry] about how the season ended last year and the changes I wanted to make, I went right back to it. We’ve all been through pain, bumps and bruises. In my head, I felt like it was something that I could fight through, and I think that kind of cost me a little bit there.”