NEW YORK — The New York Yankees would like you to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Especially since the man is Aaron Judge, whose recovery from a chip fracture in his right wrist has been shrouded in mystery — part of his workout Monday was actually behind a curtain — and who continues to proceed behind the schedule laid out by the team.
The absence of Judge was glaring as the Yankees managed just two hits off Chicago White Sox starter Carlos Rodon in a 6-2 loss Monday night that cost them a chance to gain a half-game on the idle Boston Red Sox. Gleyber Torres’ two-run home run in the fourth inning accounted for all the Yankees’ scoring and was their last hit until Luke Voit’s ninth-inning single. Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka pitched his way out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth inning, but he gave up two infield hits, a two-run double and a sacrifice fly in the sixth. Some shoddy outfield play in the seventh did not help matters.
But it was the Yankees’ lack of offense that really doomed them against a team that came in 28 games under .500.
The Yankees failed to get Ronald Torreyes home after he led off the third with a triple, and they could not take advantage of a pair of walks from Rodon to start the seventh. With Rodon struggling to throw strikes, Kyle Higashioka swung at a 3-1 pitch and fouled out to the catcher, and Torreyes hit into an inning-ending double play.
“I definitely swung at ball four,” Higashioka said. “I was looking for a fastball I could drive but I expanded a little and went after a pitch out of the zone. That one’s on me.”
It was a game of missed opportunities, and one that cried out for a bat as dangerous as Judge’s. The slugger’s continued absence takes on added importance as the Yankees remain close enough behind Boston — they are 6 1/2 games out — to believe they still have a chance to win the division with 31 games left in the regular season.
But it is unclear how much they can expect from Judge. He ran the bases and retrieved some fly balls on the field before the game, but only lobbed his return throws to a coach a few feet away. He then headed to the indoor batting cage clutching two bats — one a stickball-type bat, the other a yellow plastic bat.
A curtain was drawn to prevent the workout from being seen by reporters. Asked what he had done behind the curtain, Judge said, “Just more rehab.”
Manager Aaron Boone was similarly vague when asked for details of how Judge’s recovery was progressing. “We’re just gradually starting to introduce some more baseball-type activities,” Boone said. “But he’s not really ready yet to quite get the bat in his hand. It feels like hopefully he’s improving a little bit.”
The Yankees initially projected that Judge would be ready to swing a bat in a game situation, either in the major leagues or in a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, three weeks after the July 26 injury, which he suffered when he was hit by a pitch from Jakob Junis of the Kansas City Royals. But more than a month has passed and Judge has yet to swing even at a ball on a tee.
General manager Brian Cashman attributed the overly optimistic prognosis to Christopher Ahmad, the team’s head doctor, in an interview with the New York Post. “That was a mistake, one he has self-admitted to,” Cashman said of Ahmad. “In fairness to Aaron, four to six weeks is typical. Usually, we don’t overpromise. In this case, the optimism and the timeline were inaccurate.”
Judge, who despite having missed 30 games is second on the team in home runs with 26, fourth in RBIs with 61, and leads in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.947), has been reluctant to discuss the injury or its healing progress with reporters.
Boone said Judge still feels pain when he rotates his wrist at the end of a swing and when he attempts to throw at full intensity. “We’ve got to get to that point where it gets to that end point and it’s nonexistent anymore,” Boone said. “And that’s been trending in the right direction but it’s been something that’s moved kind of slow.”
As a result of Judge’s absence, Boone has moved Giancarlo Stanton out of the cleanup spot and into the No. 2 spot in the lineup, where he has mostly performed well. In Stanton’s place, Boone has used six players as cleanup hitters, with Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius and rookie Miguel Andujar hitting fourth eight times each.
Monday night, Voit, who made a stir over the weekend with three home runs in three games against the Orioles in Baltimore, made his debut as the Yankees cleanup hitter. He went 1-for-4 and made an error that allowed Chicago’s fifth run to score.