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Yankees manager Aaron Boone on Aaron Judge's stiff neck: 'I don't think it's that big a deal'

Yankees' Aaron Judge takes batting practice at Yankee

Yankees' Aaron Judge takes batting practice at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday July 8, 2020. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Aaron Judge was a late scratch from Saturday night’s intrasquad game with a stiff neck. He and the Yankees can only hope it’s not another here-we-go-again moment for the rightfielder.

“I don’t think it’s that big a deal,” Aaron Boone said after the game was cut short because of rain. “It just locked up on him when he woke up, just slept on it a little weird. So he got it worked on today. Obviously didn’t want to force anything.”

Judge, limited in his baseball activity in the first spring training because of a right rib fracture and collapsed lung that he traced back to a dive he made in the outfield last September,  only recently was cleared to begin hitting in full.

When he’s been on the field, Judge has proved himself to be one of the sport’s most complete players, but staying healthy has been an issue the last two seasons. After playing in 155 games in 2017 — when he won AL Rookie of the Year honors going away and finished second in the MVP voting — Judge was limited to 112 games in 2018 and 102 games in 2019 because of different injuries.

This one doesn’t appear to be severe, but Yankees fans likely will take a wait-and-see approach, especially after seeing a record 30 players go on the injured list last year. Many of those injuries initially were downplayed.

“Hopeful he can be in there tomorrow, but we’ll just see,” Boone said. “I don’t expect it to be a long-term thing.”  

Tanaka’s steady progress

It's been a week since Masahiro Tanaka, assisted by two trainers, walked off the Stadium mound after taking Giancarlo Stanton's 112-mph line drive off the right side of his head. The blow sent Tanaka to the hospital with a concussion and put Day 1 of Yankees Spring Training II under an immediate dark cloud.

But all indications since then have been good, starting with the fact that Tanaka felt little to no symptoms before being released from the hospital the night of the July 4 incident. He was at the Stadium the following day.

Each successive day has brought progress in that the symptoms have not returned, which allowed Tanaka to start playing some light catch a few days ago, something the righthander did again in the Stadium outfield on Saturday afternoon.  

“I mean, it's amazing,” lefthander James Paxton said Saturday. “He seems great, he seems completely normal. I think we got extremely lucky in that situation. It could have been way worse. He's bounced back incredibly. He’s acting normal. Same old Masa.”

Still, the Yankees will play it cautiously. Tanaka remains in MLB’s concussion protocol, and it is too early to declare with certainty that he’ll be ready when the regular season begins July 23.

“Moving slowly with Masa, just making sure,”  Boone said. “He has been able to play catch a couple times now, he's responding well to the elevated heart rate stuff [cardio] when he's on the bike, on the elliptical, or doing his arm care work and [he’s] responding well. But again, any time we're talking about a concussion, we're making sure we're moving slowly and smartly. So no plan in place about when exactly things are going to happen [increasing Tanaka’s baseball activities], but he is at least responding how we hoped.”

No problem

Aaron Hicks said he doesn’t think any of his teammates will have a problem following the road protocols spelled out in the operations manual. They essentially boil down to this: Stay in your hotel room other than when you’re at the ballpark.

“Yeah, all our team does is play video games,” Hicks said with a laugh. “I'm not too worried about my team and going out and getting wild because they like their video games.”

Five-man infield?

With sinkerballer Zack Britton on the mound during Saturday’s game, the Yankees at one point went with a five-man infield.

“It’s our Zack Britton package,” Boone said, adding that it would work only if one of the two outfielders was a speedster like Hicks or, as was the case Saturday, Tyler Wade. “If we have the right grouping out there and the right matchup at the plate, it is something we’d consider using.” 

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