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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Will Aaron Judge ever be able to stay healthy for the Yankees?

Aaron Judge after striking out to end the

Aaron Judge after striking out to end the ninth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on April 1, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

This was a few days ago and Aaron Judge was sitting in the Yankees dugout using a hand-held massage device on his side.

The YES Network camera next to the dugout caught it. Judge looked over to the cameraperson and pointed two fingers at his eyes and then pointed at the field.

Judge’s message: Don’t point that thing at me. Point it at the action on the diamond.

My message after Judge was held out of Wednesday’s lineup because of a sore side: Keep it up, you intrepid cameraperson.

 

Once again, the real action with Judge is taking place in the trainer’s room, with a TimTam or some such device, and not on the field.

And Yankees fans’ joy over Judge’s hot start has to be muted.

Is this just who the Big Fella is and is going to be? A great talent who just can’t stay healthy enough? The Yankees already have one of those in $325 million DH Giancarlo Stanton, whose history unfortunately suggests will be next to pull or strain something.

The Yankees have to hope the answer is no on Judge, who turns 29 on April 26 and is two years away from free agency.

Francisco Lindor got $341 million before he hit the open market and before he played a single game for the Mets. Can you imagine what Judge — the current face of the Yankees and one of the faces of MLB — would get as a free agent if he can play up to his prodigious talent?

But Judge hasn’t played a full season since his AL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2017, when he also finished second in the MVP voting. His sides appear to be particularly vulnerable, although manager Aaron Boone said he didn’t think this injury is related to the oblique issues that have shelved Judge in the last few seasons.

Boone characterized the latest Judge injury as "just the general wear and tear of the first several days."

The season is one week old.

"[Tuesday] during the game, kind of in his side, and then after the game, [he] was sore," Boone said when asked what was ailing Judge. "So just with the off day [Thursday], just something trying to stay ahead of."

Boone didn’t have or share a lot of details. He said he believed the soreness was on Judge’s left side (the YES camera showed him working on his right). Boone said he didn’t expect Judge to need any medical tests, but didn’t rule it out.

On Tuesday, Judge went 3-for-5 with a 432-foot, three-run home run to the left-centerfield bleachers. He hit his first home run of the season on Monday, a short-porch special to right. In the first five games, he hit .364 with a 1.028 OPS.

Judge, wearing a hoodie, was the last player on the bench in Wednesday night's 4-3, 11-inning loss to the Orioles. Boone did not use him and said it was "too early" to know if Judge will play on Friday.

There have been warning signs pointing to Judge’s apparent fragility, or at least that he has been dealing with something since running into the side wall to make a catch on Opening Day (and wrestling with a fan who tried to take the ball out of his glove).

Boone said that play "maybe . . . could have led to something, but I don’t think so." He also said the soreness could be related to the number of swings Judge has been taking during his pregame work.

Judge has been running the bases gingerly (he didn’t score from first on a two-out double in the fourth on Tuesday). An inning earlier, he declined to dive or slide when going after a ground rule double that hit the foul line near the side wall.

After the game, when there was no word that he was dealing with an injury, Judge was asked about not diving or sliding. He correctly noted the side wall would have made such a move risky.

"On that one, I usually try to stay on my feet," he said.

It didn’t help him stay on the field, though.

New York Sports