New York Yankees: Slugger Aaron Judge may miss more of the season than anticipated

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge
Oct 9, 2018; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) before game four of the 2018 ALDS playoff baseball series against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge injured his rib presumably late last season when he was making one of his amazing dive catches.  Judge experienced some pain but played through it for the remainder of the season and postseason.  During the offseason, the problem continued, and when he reported for spring training, he alerted doctors that he was still feeling pain in his shoulder.

Multiple tests by New York Yankee doctors didn’t find anything wrong, and it was decided to put Judge down for two weeks to let the pain resolve itself.  It didn’t, causing even more MRIs and tests. Finally, after nearly a month it was discovered that judge had fractured a rib.  It also showed that he had a partially collapsed lung that had healed.  They also determined that the incident must have happened when Judge took that dive that agreed with the timeline of when the pain started.

The result in spring training was that Aaron Judge did not take part in any spring training games but continued to do light workouts.  In the past two months, New York Yankee Manager Aaron Boone has made several statements that Judge continues to heal, but at the same time could not give a timeline for when Judge could safely return to training.  As it turns out, there may be a good reason for that, and that, making it possible that Judge may miss more time on the field in the already delayed baseball season.

The reason it was so difficult to diagnose what was causing Judge’s pain is two-fold.  One is that sympathetic pain or referred pain is pain that is interpreted by the brain as coming from one place when it actually originates from a different area.  As it turns out, Judge’s fractured first rib is very unusual. Most fractured ribs are lower in the rib cage.  There are many muscles in the chest, neck, and shoulder that are attached to the first rib, which would cause the diagnosis to be initially incorrect.

Dr. Guillem Gonzalez-Lomas, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Sports Health, who is familiar with the injury, admits that he has not treated Aaron Judge, but has treated many patients with the same injury.  What he suggests is not good news for the New York Yankees.  He has said that these types of injuries often take a long time to heal.  He also stated that the fact that the rib continues to heal, that that is not good enough, the rib must be completely healed before Judge should be allowed to resume baseball activities.

Gonzalez-Lomas said several significant shoulder and neck stabilizing muscles attach to the first rib. He added that throwing and swinging “place massive forces” on the area.  He further added his advice suggesting a longer than usual recovery may be needed.

“If you take a player with the size and power output of Judge, the forces across this area become stratospheric,” the doctor said. “Any residual delay in healing might become symptomatic in this setting. You would want to wait until symptoms had resolved before starting a rarefied baseball training program.”

With that statement, it is not wrong to assume that considering it has been healing for the last seven months and is still not healed, that it may take some time before he can take part in activities that would allow him to be ready for the delayed season.  It’s not impossible that he could still miss much of the delayed season when it finally starts.

This is not good news for the New York Yankees, who will already be missing Luis Severino who underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training and will be out of the rotation at least for the rest of this season.  James Paxton is also coming off back surgery, although he won’t miss as much time as initially thought.  Giancarlo Stanton has healed from his calf strain and Gary Sanchez from his lower back ailment.  However, the Yankees will be without Domingo German, who will have to finish out the remaining 60 games of his suspension that will be at least half of the season.

With Judge not able to play, it takes a very big bat out of the lineup at least, at the start.  This means that Miguel Andujar will be required to fill in in that spot to make up for the Judge’s absence.  He is the only option that has that kind of power.  If Andujar is used as a semi-permanent DH, that will mean that Stanton will have to stay healthy in the left field.  If he can’t which wouldn’t be a surprise, Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman, or Tyler Wade may see more playing time.

When MLB releases a plan to complete 80 to 100 games in this shortened season, it will be interesting to see how they may expand the rosters of major league teams.  The more they allow, the better for the New York Yankees.