Aaron Judge Enters Camp Smiling, as Usual, and Healthy, for a Change

Aaron Judge Enters Camp Smiling, as Usual, and Healthy, for a Change

February 20, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. — Of all the possible lessons from his eventful 2018 season, one in particular stuck with Aaron Judge.

“Don’t get hit on the wrist,” Judge, the Yankees’ star outfielder, said on Tuesday as the team held its first full-squad workout of spring training. “Turn the other way.”

With the benefit of time, Judge could laugh about the 93-mile-per-hour fastball from Kansas City’s Jakob Junis that fractured his right wrist on July 26. Even though Judge returned on Sept. 14, he knew his wrist would not fully heal until the off-season.

So once he appeared in Yankees’ camp, he was beaming — for many reasons. He said he entered the winter “a little worried” about his wrist, but proclaimed on Tuesday that it was completely healthy.

“It feels like it never even happened,” he said.

That feeling is a welcome change. Last winter, he had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder and worried more about rehabilitation than improving his swing or other training. His concern over the shoulder carried over into spring training and bled into the regular season, too.

“Then going into the season trying to stay healthy, and that was a grind,” he said. “But this year, I got a chance to work on things with my swing and my approach. That’s when it gets fun.”

Before he was hit by the pitch last year, Judge, 26, was producing at a rate just below that of his 2017 season, which earned him the American League Rookie of the Year Award and a runner-up finish in the Most Valuable Player Award voting. His recovery was projected to take just three weeks, but stretched to two months. When he returned in September his power was significantly limited, but he did manage three home runs in the playoffs before the Yankees were knocked out by the Boston Red Sox in a division series.

If the Yankees are to take the next step, surpassing the Red Sox and the rest of baseball, they will need core players like Judge to be better, or healthier, versions of themselves in 2019.

Judge is perhaps the most crucial presence in the Yankees’ lineup because of his ability to draw walks and hit for extra bases: He has led the team in both on-base and slugging percentages each of the past two seasons. He finished the regular season with a .278 average plus 27 home runs, 67 R.B.I. and a .919 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage.

While Judge was away with the wrist injury, the Yankees’ offense slowed, hitting .235 with a .735 O.P.S. The team went 25-20 in that span.

“He’s as healthy as he’s probably been since he’s been in the big leagues,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said of Judge this week. “He’s so much further ahead of the game from where he was last year.”

Some injuries are unpreventable, but Judge believes his preparation, at least, will be better entering this season of high hopes for the Yankees. While the front office bolstered the team’s bullpen and depth in the infield and outfield, they did not make a splashy free-agent signing like Manny Machado (who signed a $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres on Tuesday) or Bryce Harper.

Judge said he had no issue with that. Even with a young core of players, the Yankees fell one game short of the World Series in 2017 and won 100 games last year before being knocked out of the playoffs.

Although the exits were disappointing, Judge felt contributing players, not a big piece, were needed to make the final push over that hump. In fact, the player that Judge hoped the Yankees would sign was neither Machado or Harper, but relief pitcher Adam Ottavino.

“That’s the one guy I watched in the off-season, I kept praying, ‘Come on, man, let’s pull the trigger,’” Judge said. “He’s got some nasty stuff.”

Ottavino, whose arsenal features a mid-90s fastball and a Frisbee-like slider, signed a three-year $27 million deal with the Yankees in mid-January, making Judge happy. His own improved health has only made him happier.

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