Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo at batting practice during spring training in...

Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo at batting practice during spring training in George M Steinbrenner Field on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2024. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. — Forget the two home runs Anthony Rizzo launched Friday night.

Even if those baseballs had not sailed out of Steinbrenner Field in the Yankees’ 8-4 victory over the Blue Jays, he  would have felt the same.

Like a baseball player again.

“Not that I’m a superhero, but I [feel] like I got some superpowers back,” Rizzo said with a smile late Friday night. “Just that I can see the ball the right way again. I feel like I can do damage.”

Calling Rizzo’s 2023 season a nightmare doesn’t quite cover it. The three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner at first base started the season well — better than well, actually.

But on May 28 a freak play at first base essentially ended Rizzo’s season, though no one knew it at the time. On a play in which catcher Kyle Higashioka picked off the Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. at first base, Tatis did not slide and his right hip inadvertently collided with Rizzo’s head.

Though Rizzo passed MLB’s concussion protocol and returned to action June 2, his symptoms lingered. Months later, he  was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.

Hitting .304 with  an .880 OPS, 11 homers  and 32 RBIs in 53 games after that May 28 game, Rizzo batted .172 with a .496 OPS, one homer and nine RBIs in 46 games the rest of the way. He did not appear in a game after Aug. 1.

 In August, Rizzo responded to the diagnosis by saying: “[It’s] a silver lining of I’m not crazy for walking back to the dugout consistently thinking, 'Man, how did I miss that pitch? I usually don't miss that.’ Or when I swing at a pitch thinking it was in one location and go and look at the video and it's in a different location.”

And it was for that reason, after making his spring training debut last Monday, Rizzo said: “it was just like being a little kid again.”

During baseball’s winter meetings in early December, Aaron Boone said all indications were that Rizzo would be in the clear in time for spring training.

Still, the manager wanted to see it firsthand.

Like many of his teammates, Rizzo was an early arrival at the club’s minor-league complex in Tampa for workouts well before position players were scheduled to report Feb. 19. He knew fairly early on in those workouts that the persistent “fogginess” he felt the previous year was gone.

“The precision that comes with this is pretty much everything for us at this level, especially to play at a high level,” said Rizzo, who is batting .444 with two homers, two doubles and seven RBIs in five exhibition games. “When I came a few weeks ago, before camp started, and just saw a couple of lives [live batting practice sessions], it was all good stuff.”

Results for veterans generally should be ignored this time of year, but in the case of Rizzo, they’re not quite as easily dismissed.

“Look, it’s spring training and everything, but for Rizz, coming back from what he dealt with, to get some early results I think is nice for him,” said Boone, who was quickly heartened before camp when watching Rizzo take BP at the minor-league complex.

And the results are not just about hitting the ball. Rizzo throughout his career typically has been a good judge of the strike zone, and the four walks he has drawn is a positive sign.

Tracking pitches that often approach the plate at close to 100 mph — with movement — isn’t easy when completely healthy, let alone without all of one’s faculties.

“Just seeing the pitches the way I’m accustomed to seeing [them],” Rizzo said. “Timing and syncing up always comes and goes in the spring, but just where . . .  everything I need to check off has been really good.”

Going into the 2024 season there are a handful of givens for the Yankees.

Juan Soto, assuming health, is a given.

Ditto for Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole.

Rizzo, 34, based on last season and his overall history of injuries (he’s had a bad back for years), does not fit in that category.

But he has talked  like a player fully expecting a bounce-back year, and the importance of him having one cannot be overstated. He'll likely occupy the fourth slot in the lineup, with DJ LeMahieu hitting leadoff, followed by Soto in the two-hole and Judge batting third.

“I know who’s hitting in front of me,” Rizzo said. “It’s my job to make sure they’re getting the pitches . . . I’ve hit behind Judge for much of the time I’ve been here. There’s a comfort hitting behind him and now, with Soto in front of him, it’s a whole ‘nother layer.”

Notes & quotes: The Yankees lost to the Tigers, 7-2, on Sunday at Steinbrenner Field. Soto hit his third homer in four exhibition games, making him 6-for-9 with seven RBIs. Nestor Cortes allowed one run and one hit in four innings.

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