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Yankees’ Aaron Judge takes BP, nearing return from COVID-19

MLB: American League at National League

Jul 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; American League right fielder Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees (99) looks at fans from right field during the fourth inning during the 2021 MLB All Star Game at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA. Fla. -- New York Yankees All-Star outfielder Aaron Judge and catcher Kyle Higashioka took another step in returning from the COVID-19 injured list by taking batting practice Monday at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.

First baseman Luke Voit, on the IL with left knee inflammation, also took part in the workout at the Yankees’ spring training complex.

With manager Aaron Boone present, Judge also did defensive drills in right field.

New York was off Monday before opening a key series Tuesday night in nearby St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. Judge and Higashioka, placed on the IL July 16, are expected back during the three-game set.

The Yankees (51-47) started Monday nine games behind AL East-leading Boston and eight back of the second-place Rays.

New York is facing some important decisions with Friday’s trade deadline looming and owner Hal Steinbrenner, who lives in the Tampa area, likely will be in attendance at Tropicana Field.

Right-hander Clarke Schmidt, out since spring training with an elbow strain, allowed one hit and struck out five over three innings for the rookie-level Florida Complex League Yankees against the FCL Tigers West. He threw 24 of 30 pitches for strikes during his first rehab start.

The Yankees acquired right-hander Clay Holmes from the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor league infielders Diego Castillo and INF Hoy Park.

Holmes is 3-2 with a 4.93 ERA in 44 relief appearances with the Pirates this year. Over four seasons with Pittsburgh, he is 5-7 with a 5.57 ERA over 91 games, including four starts.

Park appeared in one game with the Yankees, on July 16 against Boston. He had a .307 batting average, along with 11 homers and 32 RBIs between Double-A Somerset and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Castillo hit .277 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs with Somerset.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees returned catcher Rob Brantly to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.