TAMPA — Those majestic, high-arching home runs baseball fans quickly grew to expect from Aaron Judge will not be on the menu during the early days of the exhibition season.
Offseason shoulder surgery coupled with a heavy workload last season due to the Yankees' unexpected run to the American League Championship Series will keep Judge on the bench when the Yankees begin the Grapefruit League schedule Feb. 23 against the visiting Tigers.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday he did not know when Judge will return to the lineup.
"As much as we can pull the reins on him a little bit," Boone said.
That is fine with Judge, the reigning American League rookie of the year, who led the league with 52 home runs last season.
"The games that matter are in April," Judge said. "So if I miss a couple of games, which I think I will, early in the spring, I'd rather miss those games than miss games at the end of March, early April."
Judge had arthroscopic surgery in November to remove loose bodies and clean up torn cartilage in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. At the time, the Yankees said Judge would be ready for the start of spring training. But he took batting practice Wednesday for the first time since the surgery.
Judge said he will be ready for opening day.
Judge's delay to his spring will delay what should be some must-see rounds of batting practice with Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning National League MVP who led the majors with 59 home runs last season before being traded in December to the Yankees.
It did not take Judge long to answer Brian Cashman's question when the Yankee general manager called last December to tell his rightfielder that a trade with the Marlins for Stanton, also a rightfielder, was on the table.
"I was kind of like, 'Yes, get him,'" Judge said.
The question is: Who plays where?
Boone said both right fielders will see time in left field early in camp. Judge said he is a centerfielder by trade and has experience playing left. He did not move to right field until he began playing pro baseball.
The other question facing Judge on Wednesday was when did he suffer his shoulder injury and how much did it play in the epic slump that saw him hit .176 with 70 strikeouts in 199 plate appearances from the All-Star Game to Sept. 2? He rebounded with a .329 average and 15 home runs over his final 25 games.
Judge said he could not pinpoint an exact moment, but added he did take a lot of swings and did run into a lot of outfield walls during the first half of the year. As for what role the injury played in his swoon, Judge did not offer much other than to say he would not blame poor performance on an injury.
Boone watched Judge's breakout season from the TV booth as an analyst for ESPN. He said he was impressed with how Judge rebounded from his debut in 2015, when he hit .179 with four home runs in 27 games.
"What I saw was a young player with the courage and the willingness to go make some adjustments in his approach, in his swing, in the mechanics of how he gets ready to hit," Boone said. "Those adjustments showed up Day 1 last year of spring training. He obviously got off to a great start, and the rest of it is history."
When asked about how his ceiling might be, Judge said, "For me, I don't know. That's what kind of motivates me. How good can you be? How great can someone be? That's what motivates me to come in here early and getting my work in and trying to improve."
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