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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
22 Jul 2023
Tribune News Service

NextImg:Yankees Notebook: Anthony Rizzo in ‘a really good spot physically’ despite slump, Aaron Boone says

Anthony Rizzo seems fine physically, despite a prolonged slump that’s included a two-month drought without a home run, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Saturday.

The first baseman hasn’t homered since May 20 — a stretch of 44 games — and entered Saturday’s home contest against the Royals without a hit in his last 18 at-bats.

“I do feel like, physically, he is in a really good spot, especially with some of the things he’s had to deal with periodically with his back over the last few years,” Boone said.

“I just look at it as one of those funks of a really good player that’s kind of going through it. I think everything suggests from a bat speed and physical attribute [sense] that he’s still very much the same. He’s just been off.”

Rizzo, who tied his career high with 32 home runs last season, started the 2023 campaign with 11 homers through his first 46 games. He took a .304 average into June but batted just .173 that month and is hitting .123 in July.

The 33-year-old suffered a neck injury in a first-base collision with the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. on May 28, causing him to leave that game and miss the next three. He’s started nearly every game since.

“I know [his slump] kind of coincided with him having the neck issue, which may or may not have thrown him into a little mechanical funk that got him into a bad habit or something, but physically, he’s very sound,” Boone said.

The Yankees acquired Rizzo in a trade-deadline deal with the Cubs in 2021 and re-signed him to a two-year, $40 million contract in the offseason.

Despite his struggles, Rizzo has remained near the top of the Yankees’ lineup, including hitting third Saturday. Boone said there has been “some consideration” of dropping Rizzo in the order, but doing so ultimately hasn’t made sense.

“He’s also been around a lot of other guys struggling, too, and [with] him on a lot of nights being the only one or two or three, at times, lefties in the lineup, you’ve got to space them out,” Boone said.

“I know it’s probably weighed on him,” the manager added. “He’s human, but that said, he’s also, I think, handled it well.”

Injured Aaron Judge won’t be restricted when he faces Jonathan Loaisiga during the rehabbing reliever’s live bullpen session Sunday.

Boone said Judge, who hasn’t played since hurting his right big toe on June 3, will be a “full go” against Loaisiga, marking the slugger’s first time swinging against live pitching since the injury.

Judge has taken batting practice multiple times in the past week and has also run the bases and in the outfield.

“He’s been hitting a lot, so I don’t expect [Sunday] to be overly eventful other than now starting to turn it on against probably as tough a righty as he’s gonna face,” Boone said. “Hopefully that’s kind of a springboard to him really starting to get a lot of live at-bats.”

Judge, 31, suffered a torn ligament when a running catch at Dodger Stadium took him into the right field wall. The reigning AL MVP said Friday that he doesn’t expect to be pain-free when he returns.

“It’s more like the agility, the quick movement, side to side, really pushing off the ball of that foot where most of the pain comes,” Judge said.

Sunday’s session could “potentially” help the Yankees determine a timeline for Judge’s comeback, according to Boone. The team hasn’t decided whether he will require rehab games.

Sunday’s live session also marks progress for Loaisiga, who underwent surgery in May to remove a bone spur in his elbow.

The hard-throwing reliever is also scheduled to throw a live bullpen Wednesday, and if all goes well, he could begin a rehab assignment next weekend, Boone said.

Loaisiga has only appeared in three games this season, last pitching on April 5.

The next step in starting pitcher Nestor Cortes’ injury rehab is set to take place Sunday as well. He’s scheduled to start for Double-A Somerset in Hartford, where Boone expects the left-hander’s pitch count to reach the low-40s.

Cortes has been out since May 30 with rotator cuff inflammation. He threw 35 pitches during a live session Monday in Anaheim.

The 28-year-old has pitched to a 5.16 ERA in 11 starts this year, up from his 2.44 ERA in last season’s All-Star campaign.

Harrison Bader remained out of the Yankees’ starting lineup Saturday after being hit by a pitch in Anaheim, but Boone said he expects the center fielder to return Sunday.

Bader left Wednesday’s game against the Angels after being plunked in the ribs and missed Friday’s game against the Royals as well.

Boone said before Saturday’s game that he would consider using Bader off the bench.