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Yankees activate Aaron Judge, Kyle Higashioka from COVID-IL

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Judge last appeared in pinstripes during the All-Star Game two weeks ago, but he’s finally back.

MLB: MAY 13 Yankees at Rays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s only a little weird that it was technically just 12 days ago when the Yankees’ already-bumpy 2021 season turned upside-down. Just before the team was supposed to begin its second half with a Thursday night showdown against the Red Sox, the game was cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the Yankees’ players. The biggest name to go down was Aaron Judge, who was most recently seen at the 2021 All-Star Game in Denver, and the team was forced to scramble to add several replacements from Triple-A Scranton.

Jonathan Loaisiga, Nestor Cortes Jr., and Gio Urshela have all gradually returned to the Yankees from their COVID-IL stints, but Judge and backup catcher Kyle Higashioka took a few days longer (perhaps due to reports that at least one or both of them were unvaccinated, which is pretty irresponsible at this point with the Delta variant surging).

Well now, Judge and Higashioka are back and with the Yankees in St. Petersburg, ready to help them begin yet another pivotal series against the Rays in this rapidly-sinking season. Corresponding moves have not yet been announced, though there will also be another to activate newly-acquired reliever Clay Holmes in time for tonight.

The Yankees had some other positive news to share, as Aaron Boone told reporters that first baseman Luke Voit is “very close” to returning from his bone bruise. He will return this weekend in Miami against the Marlins, if not sooner. It’s been a struggle for Voit to stay healthy this year, but considering how poorly Yankees first basemen have fared without him, it’s safe to say that he should provide a boost.

All told, the Yankees went 5-4 in Judge’s absence, which wouldn’t sound too bad for any team immediately losing its most valuable position player ... except for the fact that the Yankees’ bullpen blew a pair of winnable games late. Thanks to these missed opportunities, the team sits 9.5 games back of the AL East-leading Red Sox, eight back of the second-place Rays, and 3.5 back of the A’s for the second Wild Card spot.

Noting this is like playing a broken record at this point, but if the Yankees have any semblance of hope for a second-half run, it needs to begin now and not stop. There’s no time to waste or to sink further back. It’s time for Judge and company to step up and then some.

First pitch tonight is at 7:05pm ET.

Update

Moves official. Most notably, Estevan Florial and Albert Abreu return to the minors. I’d have rather seen Florial hang around than Brett Gardner, but oh well. The Yankees weren’t giving up on him that soon and Florial needs to start anyway, I guess.