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 Not Judging, but Aaron's status now a big question mark

Aaron Judge of the Yankees looks on from

Aaron Judge of the Yankees looks on from the dugout during the second inning against the Rays at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Remember the Yankees’ rosy projection of a three-week timetable for Aaron Judge’s return from a fractured wrist? Now change that to anyone’s guess, and even when Judge does make it back, there’s no telling how effective he’ll be, an unpleasant reality that Brian Cashman finally copped to before Wednesday night’s 6-1 loss to the Rays.

 We sort of suspected that from the jump. But the Yankees’ streak of wishful thinking ended when Cashman stoked those fears anew during Wednesday’s interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa. The GM came clean, saying that the team “undershot” in their initial estimation, and Judge’s lingering wrist pain not only remains an issue, but would likely hinder him upon his return to lineup.

As for an updated prediction, Cashman offered only this vague assessment: “It’s going to take longer, and it will be whenever. But he will be back at some point.”

 The Yankees arrived at this conclusion after Judge had another MRI and CT scan, along with a cortisone shot Monday to “alleviate the pain,” according to Cashman. This latest round of tests didn’t alter the original diagnosis - a chip fracture - but Boone did acknowledge Wednesday that the healing process has been slower than anticipated.

 That didn’t prevent Judge from running the bases Wednesday and chasing balls in rightfield, basically the extent of his activities before he can swing a bat outside of a hydrotherapy pool. Judge was unavailable for comment after Wednesday night’s game, but Boone said that he did take some underwater swings earlier, which made the manager sound more optimistic about his progress than Cashman.

“It’s not where we had hoped at this point,” Boone said, “but it’s moving in the right direction.”

The pace, however, is troubling. After a few weeks assuming the best with Judge, the Yankees now seem to be bracing for the worst, and Cashman didn’t sugar-coat the prognosis during his chat with WFAN. There are no shortcuts when it comes to repairing a broken bone, and the GM was forced to backpedal this time, along with pumping the brakes on the expectations going forward. It’s unusual for Cashman to be guilty of underselling injuries - that’s a problem more associated with the team in Flushing - but he whiffed badly on Judge.

 “It’s just waiting it out,” Cashman said. “It’s really a pain management situation. We probably over-expected maybe because of how Judge has responded in years gone by. With anything pain related, he’s as tough as nails ... but it’s going to take as long as it needs to take, and we’re going to give him that time, because you don’t want to mess things up and push him through something when it’s not ready.”

 The Yankees should be able to weather Judge’s absence in the short-term, only because the upcoming schedule is littered with pushovers. They are 10-9 since Judge was put on the DL, and the dip includes a four-game sweep at Fenway that essentially locked up the AL East for the nearly unbeatable Red Sox (86-36). After this Rays series, the Yankees don’t play an above .500 team until their Sept. 3 visit to Oakland.

Based on what’s already transpired, it’s no guarantee that Judge will be in the lineup by then. And his name simply appearing in the No. 2 spot again doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the same Judge that was batting .285 with 26 homers and a .947 OPS before the Royals’ Jakob Junis drilled him with that 94-mph fastball.

Cashman implied as much when talking about the early stages of Judge’s return, which would probably involve a number of stops-and-starts as he gets comfortable again. That’s unavoidable when a player misses a month or more, especially when it affects the range of motion for a wrist. It’s within the realm of possibility that Judge won’t be anything close to 100 percent through the remainder of this season, for however long it lasts. That’s an unsettling thought for a team with World Series aspirations.

“Once he’s healthy, then there’s knocking the rust out and getting him back to peak performance levels, and that takes time,” Cashman said. “Sometimes you get lucky and guys don’t miss a beat, but that would be highly unlikely. He’s going to be obviously dealing with getting his timing back, and then how the wrist responds ... Those are unknowns.”

For now, Judge is a 6-foot-7 question mark, and Cashman wound up being as guilty as everyone else in trying to duck the unfortunate truth for as long as possible.

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