TAMPA — If the Yankees are going to salvage something out of this season, they’ll need to move quickly.
Aaron Judge, Luke Voit and Kyle Higashioka were at Steinbrenner Field Monday, as Judge and Higashioka prepare to return from the COVID-19 IL and Voit works his way back from left knee inflammation that’s also landed him on the IL.
Judge took batting practice and did defensive drills Monday after he and Higashioka traveled to Boston from New York to rejoin the team on Sunday before Monday’s off day.
They each had to go through cardio exams before being cleared to play and on Sunday, Aaron Boone said it was uncertain when Judge would be ready to be in the lineup.
Higashioka figures to be ready Tuesday, since the Yankees returned Rob Brantly to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make room on the 40-man roster for new reliever, Clay Holmes, acquired Monday from Pittsburgh.
But the Yankees are in desperate need of a spark, having just dropped three of four in Boston to the first-place Red Sox.
Two of those losses came in crushing fashion, with the one win a dramatic victory on Saturday that was immediately overshadowed by an even worse defeat the next day.
Remarkably, they’re 10-6 since Aroldis Chapman blew the game against the Mets in the first game of a July 4 doubleheader in The Bronx.
Still, they left Fenway nine games back of Boston in the AL East and in a virtual tie for third with Toronto, which also trails Tampa Bay.
And in the wild-card standings, the Yankees found themselves four games back of the second spot following Sunday’s loss.
Judge was in the midst of a stellar season before being sidelined by COVID, with 21 homers, an OPS of .901, 47 RBIs, 46 walks and 51 runs scored — all team highs.
He last played in the All-Star Game on July 13 in Colorado before he joined what became a group of six Yankees players who tested positive for COVID.
Jonathan Loaisiga was the first player impacted, hitting the COVID IL on July 10. He was followed by fellow relievers Wandy Peralta and Nestor Cortes Jr., with Gio Urshela, Judge and Higashioka also eventually being forced out.
Loaisiga, Cortes and Urshela have returned.
Loaisiga gave up four runs in a disastrous eighth inning on Sunday, pitching on back-to-back days for the first time since June 1-2, even though the right-hander hadn’t appeared in a game since July 9 prior to Saturday’s outing.
Without Judge coming out of the All-Star break, the Yankees still managed to win four of their first five games of the second half.
That helped cut their deficit in the division to seven games on Wednesday, but another ugly weekend in Boston left the Yankees’ chances of making the postseason at just 35.7 percent, according to Fangraphs.
And to win the division, Fangraphs gave the Yankees just a 3.5 percent chance.
The Yankees, though, still appear to be in buy mode leading into Friday’s trade deadline, but regardless of what additions they may make to their roster this week, none are likely to have a greater impact than Judge.
Voit, meanwhile, has had a miserable season, sidelined by a torn meniscus in his left knee that led to surgery in spring training, followed by a strained oblique and then the left knee inflammation — which the Yankees said was unrelated to the meniscus injury.
After leading the majors with 22 homers a year ago, Voit has just three this season and the Yankees have struggled at first base throughout the season.
Boone declined to put a timetable on Voit’s potential return, but time is running out for him to make an impact this year.