Judge said on Wednesday that he did not want to use the injury as an excuse for the funk he endured in the second half, when he batted .176 with 70 strikeouts in 199 plate appearances from the All-Star break through Sept. 2.
Though Joe Girardi, then the manager, said on Aug. 30 that the team and Judge had discussed the possibility of a cortisone shot, Judge said Wednesday that he had no injections in the shoulder last season, only treatment from the training staff.
That treatment, along with adjustments to his swing to compensate for the injury, was at the heart of Judge’s resurgence — he hit 15 homers from Sept. 3 to the end of the regular season and was a force in the American League Championship Series after a woeful divisional series.
“The biggest thing for me was just learning how to play with it,” Judge said at a news conference.
“It was my first time really dealing and pushing through an injury like that in the shoulder,” he added. “For me, the biggest thing was just a couple of weeks of trying to adjust and learn — if I’m not 100 percent, if I’m 80 percent, learning how to play with that 80 percent.”
How Judge’s shoulder was injured remains something of a mystery. It did not happen when he tumbled into the stands at Fenway Park in late April, he said, or when he dived into the gap to make a game-saving catch against Tampa Bay in May.
“It’s tough to really say,” he said. “I kind of felt it around the All-Star break, but it’s tough to really pinpoint when because I was crashing into walls, I was taking a lot of swings. It was a couple different things, but it’s tough to kind of pinpoint exactly when.”
Judge did not say — nor was he asked specifically — whether participating in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Break contributed to the injury. Judge’s captivating performance that night — he hit 47 derby homers, including four measured at 500 feet or more — was also the demarcation point for his six-week slide. He had entered the All-Star break with 30 home runs, a .329 batting average and a 1.139 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
However the injury occurred, Judge was emphatic that the way he routinely played defense — crashing into the wall at Yankee Stadium to steal an extra-base hit from Houston’s Yuli Gurriel in the A.L.C.S., for example — would not change because of the surgery.
“I never want to play timid or scared of anything, especially when my pitcher or my teammates are out there going 100 percent,” he said. “I want to make sure I’m a full 100 percent, so if that’s running into the walls, running into the stands, I’m still going to do that.”
It may be incumbent, then, on Boone to make sure his star stays healthy. Boone said he would counsel Judge about playing the position intelligently and would use the designated-hitter spot to occasionally get Judge off his feet. The spot will be manned mostly by the newly acquired Giancarlo Stanton, and Boone said he would also use it to give catcher Gary Sanchez some breaks.
Both Stanton and Judge will get some work in left field during spring training workouts, Boone said, and if all goes well they will be stationed there in exhibition games, which begin Feb. 23.
Neither Judge nor Stanton has played left field in a major league game, but they were rated as two of the better defensive right fielders in baseball last season. And they would most likely be used in Boston, Baltimore and Houston, which have small left fields, or in a matchup with a particular lineup that isn’t expected to yield many fly balls.
Judge said he would be ready for anything — at least on opening day.