Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo played through post-concussion syndrome for 2-plus months


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NEW YORK — Anthony Rizzo’s concern grew recently when he’d walk back to the dugout in bewilderment after striking out on a pitch he’d normally hit. Rizzo said he’d swing at a pitch he thought looked middle-away when it was actually three feet off the plate.

Rizzo is known for having an elite awareness of the strike zone. Until this season’s 23 percent strikeout rate, Rizzo hasn’t struck out in more than 20 percent of his at-bats since his rookie year in 2011. But Rizzo finally has an answer as to what’s ailed him.

The Yankees placed Rizzo on the 10-day injured list on Thursday with post-concussion syndrome, linked back to May 28 when San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. collided with him on a pickoff attempt at first base. Rizzo left that game early with what the team called a “neck injury” and missed the following three games. He underwent MLB-mandated concussion testing but passed those tests. But since the collision, Rizzo has been the worst hitter in the sport. His 44 wRC+, .172 batting average, .225 slugging and .496 OPS since May 28 all rank dead last out of 168 qualified hitters.

Last weekend against Baltimore, Rizzo started complaining of “fogginess,” according to Yankees manager Aaron Boone. The Yankees sent him for testing with a neurologist, who determined he had “cognitive impairment,” the team said.

“I remember talking to someone and they said, ‘Do you feel like you’re coming out of this soon?’” Rizzo told reporters on Thursday. “I answered honestly that no I don’t because I couldn’t feel what you’re trying to feel as a hitter. I guess now we can link two and two together. Over the last few weeks, you just start going to different checklists of mechanics, timing, consistently being late. Why am I being consistently late? I’ve made these adjustments plenty of times in my career. I just didn’t forget how to do this all of a sudden.

“Everything (the doctors and I) talked about and everything they came back with basically came back on a silver lining of I’m not crazy for walking back to the dugout consistently thinking how I missed that pitch because I usually don’t miss that pitch.”

The Yankees, for over two months now, have said Rizzo has been physically fine. When questioned about Rizzo’s struggles beginning around the time of the collision, Boone continuously said it was just a bad stretch of baseball for Rizzo, who has just one home run since May 28.

Even with Rizzo struggling like never before in his career, the team did not perform any additional testing after the league-mandated concussion test came back negative because he hadn’t complained of any symptoms until this past weekend. Even after Rizzo had mentioned fogginess, he was in the lineup Sunday in Baltimore and struck out five times; Monday he was 1-for-4 with two strikeouts; and Tuesday he went 1-for-4. Boone kept him out of the lineup on Wednesday and described it as a predetermined day off; Rizzo said he saw a neurologist on Wednesday.

But even with Rizzo’s performance tanking for more than two months, he said it never crossed his mind to get testing, even though he described some days as “waking up feeling hungover and you didn’t drink at all.” Rizzo thought he was just extra fatigued from travel and the grind of a baseball season. He said the neurologist told him it’s not uncommon to not know of a previous concussion because it can have a cascading effect over time, which is what has been described to him as what he’s experienced.

“As competitors, you don’t want excuses,” Rizzo said. “So when people come up and (are) like, ‘You haven’t been the same since the collision,’ I want to go tell people off because that’s not who we are as competitors. Even still, I feel like being injured or playing through a back injury or ankle injury in the past, you just adapt. Your body adapts. Obviously with this, I did everything I could and it’s unfortunate. The hardest part is missing time because I want to be out there. I want to be playing, but also to the level that I know I’m capable of playing at.”

Rizzo said the plan moving forward is to undergo frequent testing and be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. He’s also taking a supplement to treat concussions. During his testing on Wednesday with the neurologist, Rizzo said his reaction time was “moving a lot slower than the normal person’s reaction time would be and that’s definitely alarming.” The neurologist told Rizzo that once he’s fully cleared, he should return to normalcy. But that timeline is currently unclear.

With Rizzo now out of the lineup, the Yankees plan to platoon Jake Bauers and DJ LeMahieu at first base. The expectation is LeMahieu will play first base against left-handed pitchers and Bauers against righties. On days LeMahieu is at first, Isiah Kiner-Falefa or Oswaldo Cabrera, who was called up to replace Rizzo, will play third base. Former Yankees first baseman Luke Voit, who was with the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate, opted out of his contract on Thursday. Voit has been one of the hottest hitters in the minors. Boone was asked about a potential reunion, and — through a wide smile on his face that he said to not read into it at all — said they haven’t gotten that far into discussing the possibility.

Rizzo is just the latest Yankee to have been playing through a serious injury. Catcher Jose Trevino was shut down last month after he revealed he was playing through a wrist ligament injury sustained in spring training; LeMahieu played through a toe injury for the final two months of last season; third baseman Josh Donaldson is taking batting practice even though he was diagnosed with a Grade 2-plus calf strain two weeks ago; and Aaron Judge has said he will play through discomfort for the rest of the season with his torn toe ligament.

But the Yankees’ first baseman dealing with a head injury is the most serious of them all.

“From what I love to do, is there a little bit of worry? Yes,” Rizzo said. “But just the rest of the treatment with success of people overcoming this — not only overcoming this but the concussion resigning and being completely back to normal. They say once you’re back to normal, you’re back to normal and you’re not really in risk.”

(Top photo: G Fiume / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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