Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not a matter of if Yankees captain and reigning MVP Aaron Judge returns to the lineup this season, but when. Manager Aaron Boone made his weekly appearance on the Talkin’ Yanks podcast Tuesday and said his star slugger had moved his rehab to Tampa.

In Yankee-speak, that usually means rehab games. Sure enough, Yankees minor league beat reporter John Brophy added the plan seemed to be Judge taking live batting practice.

Judge hasn’t played since making a catch and subsequently crashing through the bullpen fence at Dodger Stadium on June 3. Though he made the play, he tore a ligament in his toe and only recently started ramping up baseball activities.

Of course, the Yankees have never given an actual concrete timeline for his return.

Except now, it’s obvious that Aaron judge is angling to get back on the field, and quickly. The Yankees don’t want to rush him and probably have some minor league games planned. This would rule out returning for the crucial Orioles series in Baltimore this weekend.

However, Judge could perhaps return for the homestand against the rival Rays. If not then, the Astros are next. All important series with vitally important games for the Yankees, who would love to have Aaron Judge back for the late season sprint.

Judge himself has said he won’t be “pain-free” for the rest of the season, so fans should immediately temper expectations. There’s every chance Aaron Judge could look completely lost on his bad toe like DJ LeMahieu was on his last year. In that case, the Yankees might pull the plug and send him off for surgery.

But the MVP also knows his body and wouldn’t be gradually increasing his efforts if he didn’t think he could. When he’s ready to play, he’ll be back in the lineup.

And then, hopefully, the Yankees spend some more time in the win column.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.