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Aaron Judge nightmare ruins Yankees’ fine day

Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge reacts after getting hit

Yankees rightfielder Aaron Judge reacts after getting hit by a pitch in the first inning against the Royals at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

In the span of eight hours Thursday, the Yankees welcomed Zach Britton, traded for J.A. Happ and . . . lost Aaron Judge for at least three weeks because of a chipped bone in his right wrist.

Yeah, you read that last part correctly.

The two additions were nice. The subtraction? That sucked any joy from the day’s festivities. Even the Yankees’ 7-2 victory over the miserable Royals (along with Boston’s loss) felt hollow.

With our attention focused on the countdown to Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline and what the Yankees needed to accomplish before then, we didn’t even consider the possibility of any core pieces going down.

Sure, Gary Sanchez went back on the disabled list after aggravating his groin injury, but the Yankees already had survived without him for a while.

But Judge? It’s too easy to think him indestructible. The guy hid a major shoulder injury from everyone for nearly four months in 2017 and still figured out a way to remain the Yankees’ most fearsome power source. The Yankees are fortunate that he won’t need wrist surgery, but there’s no fighting his way through this one.

In the first inning, he took a 94-mph fastball from Jakob Junis off the heel of his right hand, and for someone who never flinches, it was clear this pitch hurt him.

Judge grimaced, then flicked away the bat, as if he knew it could be more than a bruise. After he was checked out by trainer Steve Donohue, the Yankees allowed him to stay in the game, but he lasted only one more at-bat. After an infield single in the third, he was replaced at DH by Miguel Andujar in the fourth. Afterward, Aaron Boone said Judge had trouble swinging a bat in the cages underneath the clubhouse, so they pulled him.

It wasn’t so much the pain in the wrist area, Boone said, as “we didn’t think the strength was there.” That had to be the first red flag. A few more followed.

During the game, when the Yankees announced that Judge had been checked out by the team physician and was headed for an MRI, they skipped any official mention of an X-ray exam — the usual first step.

Later, Boone didn’t have an update on Judge’s condition during his postgame news conference. The longer the Yankees went without one, the more ominous the situation appeared. Finally, the team revealed that he had suffered a chip fracture of the ulnar styloid bone. The prognosis? Approximately three weeks before he can swing a bat in a “game situation.”

Looking ahead, aside from next week’s four-game series at Fenway Park, the Yankees play only one other team with an above-.500 record: the Rays. That’s the good news.

But that does beg this question: Will Brian Cashman now feel compelled to look for outfield help?

Cashman has until Tuesday’s deadline to search for alternatives, and getting another catcher could free up Sanchez to become a full-time DH if Judge needs additional time to get up to speed. As damaging as the initial prognosis seems, you have to wonder how accurate that three-week layoff will be. Healing bones can be an inexact science.

Judge’s injury is just another reminder of how quickly things can turn.

The Yankees were riding high Thursday afternoon, with Cashman checking boxes on his deadline checklist and looking pretty much done. He left the door open to more moves, but based on the market and what he already has given up, he sounded satisfied to a degree.

“Time will tell,” he said. “We’ll see if there’s anything else we can do to hopefully improve this roster. We are fully engaged, as everyone else is.”

Three hours after Cashman spoke those words, Junis drilled Judge on the right wrist and the Yankees’ world tilted. A game’s worth of anxiety then folded into frustration. Losing Judge was a punch no one saw coming.


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