TAMPA, Fla. — Aaron Judge’s offseason shoulder surgery will cost him a few games when Grapefruit League play begins Feb. 23. But, the Yankees rightfielder said, Opening Day and beyond shouldn’t be imperiled.
“The games that matter are in April,” Judge said Wednesday. “So if I miss a couple of games, which I probably will, early in spring, I’d rather miss those games than miss games starting at the end of March, early April.”
And, to be clear, he expects to be on the field at Rogers Centre March 29 for the season opener.
“We’re on schedule for that,” Judge said.
Judge, 25, is coming off a season in which he hit a rookie-record 52 homers, was AL Rookie of the Year and finished second in the MVP voting. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder Nov. 21. The Yankees described the procedure as “a loose-body removal and cartilage clean-up.”
“Certainly coming off, albeit a minor thing . . . we’ll as much as we can pull the reins on him a little bit,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I’ve already talked to him, and he’s chomping to get out there and play. But we’ll be smart with him.”
Because Judge, who hit .284/.422/.627 and drove in 114 runs, is coming off surgery, he qualifies as a rehabbing player and is able to work out with pitchers and catchers several days before position players are scheduled to report. Judge went through a light workout Wednesday, which included running and throwing.
Judge, who often played rightfield with abandon, crashing into walls and the grass or turf in pursuit of balls, could not pinpoint an instance that caused the injury. He said only that he started feeling discomfort in the shoulder around the All-Star break, during which he won the Home Run Derby in Miami.
Judge was the MVP front-runner at the break but slumped for nearly seven weeks, hitting .179/.346/.344 with seven homers and 16 RBIs. He acknowledged the injury might have been a factor but wouldn’t definitively say so. He did recover in September, when he hit 15 homers and had a 1.352 OPS.
“I felt it midway through the season, but it came down to ‘Can you play?’ And I could play,” Judge said. “July, August, everyone’s going through something. No one’s 100 percent.”
Judge, like Derek Jeter, isn’t fond of discussing injuries, but he perked up talking about the December acquisition of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. Before completing the deal, general manager Brian Cashman called Judge because both players are rightfielders, but Judge had no reservations.
“I was like, ‘We can get an MVP-caliber player on our team? Let’s do it,’ ” Judge said. “He’s ready for New York. He’s going to fit right in to this team. He’s here to win, that’s all I real ly hear him talk about.”
Both are likely to see some time in leftfield this spring, which is OK with Judge, who played mostly center and some left in college. Stanton has said the same.
If the experiment works, Boone left open the possibility of either one getting time in left in Fenway Park and Camden Yards, which have small leftfields. Brett Gardner would get most of the playing time at the Stadium, which has a spacious leftfield.
Judge and Stanton met during last year’s Home Run Derby and chatted in New York in late January. Not surprisingly, the 6-7, 280-pound Judge and the 6-6, 245-pound Stanton found some common ground.
“One of the first things he said was, ‘Hey, man, when we get down to Tampa, let’s spend some time in the cage and pick each other’s brains,’ ” Judge said. “It’ll be nice to have another big guy in the clubhouse like that.”