Aaron Judge’s mysterious Yankees ride takes new twist

Aaron Judge's latest Yankees absence -- a day off on Wednesday with a lower body ailment -- brings even more questions around the slugger.

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Building off the NBA’s concept of load management, the Yankees have introduced us to Judge management here in 2021.

For the second time in the season’s first month, Aaron Judge has missed time with a vaguely described “lower body” ailment — unusual in a sport that typically gets pretty precise, if not altogether forthcoming, in this department. Between these two absences he started 16 consecutive games and had an uneven .222/.382/.444 slash line, obviously not his best, but also far from the worst such stretch for the notoriously streaky player.

After three straight seasons defined by long or multiple injured list stays, is this as good as it’ll get for Judge on the health front? Or does this mark the first step in an Eric Cressey renovation project for the 29-year-old, who can reach free agency after next season? As manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday, before the Yankees continued their Camden Yards series against Baltimore without their right fielder, “The proof will be in the 162-game season.”

This latest drama began Tuesday night, as the Yankees wrapped up their 5-1 victory over the Orioles, when Boone lifted Judge for the ninth inning — a red flag given that the visitors’ lead hardly stood out of reach (if unlikely to break, given the O’s weak lineup and the Yankees’ strong bullpen). Boone, minutes later, divulged Judge’s “lower body” issues and announced his intention to rest him for at least one game shortly, which turned out to be Wednesday.

Aaron Judge
Getty Images

Last time, April 7 at Yankee Stadium then April 9 at Tropicana Field (with an off-day in between), Boone cited Judge’s “left side” in sitting him for two straight contests. It turned out, as per the man himself, to be the byproduct of swinging the bat too much.

This time … well, again, maybe we’ll find out more after Judge returns to the lineup, which should be Thursday afternoon, Boone said. In the interim, we’re left with enough unanswered questions to fill the first half of a David Baldacci thriller.

“I think there’s multiple minor things that pop up that I don’t think it’s really necessary at times to go into,” Boone said. “There are times when it absolutely is clearly specific. There’s … other times when it’s a little bit gray and a little bit wear-and-tear, so that’s what I leave it at.”

Hey, if these machinations and misdirections keep Judge happy and healthy, then go for it. Entering Wednesday’s action, Judge trailed only new No. 1 catcher Kyle Higashioka with 0.6 offensive wins above replacement, as per Baseball-Reference.com. His defense in right field, at which he clearly is being more cautious to avoid the sort of injuries that previously sidelined him, has not scored well on the metrics. Those metrics carry limited value this early, though, and the more often the Yankees can put Judge’s name and bat in the lineup, the more it’ll help the club.

Regarding Judge’s much-discussed durability, Boone said: “We can all look back [at the end of the season] and say he was, wasn’t, whatever conclusion you want to draw. But you can’t live in the immediate of a day for somebody. If we look up at the end of the season and he’s posted 140, 150 times, that goes away.

“With all these guys, Aaron included, you’ve got to play a little bit of the long game, too. And it’s about having our best players available as much as we possibly can. That’s how you factor these in and weigh these things all the time.”

Judge’s health generates the most attention of anyone on this team because of his ceiling, his history and the curiosities over whether he and the Yankees will stay together long-term, and at what price. Judge management represents a new wrinkle, certainly an upgrade over him missing weeks and months rather than days.

This issue, these questions and quite possibly this repeated murkiness won’t go away until, as Boone said, Judge can complete the marathon while avoiding significant injured-list time. It is what it is, a known unknown, so strap yourselves in for this mysterious ride.

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Ken Davidoff

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