Yankees' Aaron Judge returns to action after stiff neck

NEW YORK -- Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge hit a home run to center field in his first at-bat Wednesday after missing three consecutive games because of a stiff neck.

The 2017 Rookie of the Year, who was playing right field and making his first appearance in the lineup since Saturday, went deep on the second pitch he saw from starter James Paxton in the intrasquad game.

"With Pax, I know he's got a good fastball he likes to elevate. I was just trying to beat him to a spot," Judge said. "I know a lot of lefties try to come in a lot. That's kind of their game plan. I was just trying to get ready for a pitch out of the plate, and I was just able to beat him to that spot inside."

Judge did some light field activity Monday and Tuesday, taking part in batting practice and shagging fly balls in the outfield. He was scratched before Saturday's game after he told the Yankees that he woke up with a sore neck.

"Sometimes you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. That's all I really got for that," Judge said. "But the trainer's been helping me out. Just a stiff neck. Biggest thing was I couldn't see the pitcher, I couldn't really turn my neck all the way to see the pitcher, and that's not where you want to be. So now I can see the pitcher, and it's time to roll."

Although Judge said his neck is "still not 100 percent," he felt good enough to play Wednesday and came out of the scrimmage with "no issues."

Judge, who used the coronavirus hiatus to rehab a fractured first right rib and subsequent punctured lung, was swinging at full strength before summer camp resumed at Yankee Stadium. He took part in full practices and intrasquad action before his latest ailment.

"These games really don't matter right now. It's about getting ready for Opening Day," he said. "If I didn't play a single spring training game, but I'm ready to play for Opening Day, I'm going be excited about that."

Paxton will start the second game of the regular season against the Nationals on July 25, manager Aaron Boone announced. As anticipated, Boone confirmed that ace Gerrit Cole will start for the Yankees when they open the abbreviated 2020 season against the Nationals on July 23.

Paxton, who was 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA for the Yankees in 2019, is back to full health after undergoing a microscopic lumbar discectomy in February to repair a herniated disk and remove a peridiscal cyst.

"Since having his surgery, just the whole process has really gone well, from his rehab to even before we left in Spring Training 1.0. [Paxton] was already starting to play catch and felt like he was in a really good spot before he headed home," Boone said. "He was able to get a lot of quality work in while he was in Wisconsin and has come in here ready to go."

Boone said Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, who has been in concussion protocol since he was hit on the right side of the head by a 112 mph line drive from Giancarlo Stanton on Saturday, will be back on the mound Thursday to throw a bullpen session.