It was about four hours before first pitch for Yankees-Red Sox last night at Yankee Stadium, and the struggling rookie rightfielder for the home team stood under a cage at home plate, taking early batting practice. “Just working on my swing,” Aaron Judge said. “That’s about it.”
Judge hasn’t been in the swing of things for a long time, so much so that Joe Girardi dropped him in the order for the opener of a series that’s crucial to the Yankees’ hopes of catching AL East-leading Boston.
In Game 2 of Wednesday’s doubleheader loss to Cleveland, Judge batted fourth. Last night against the Red Sox, Girardi batted him sixth behind Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro.
“Just as you move hitters around when they earn their spot up in the lineup, sometimes you try different things when a guy’s struggling,” Girardi said. “I’ve tried moving him to two. I’ve had him fourth, fifth. So I just moved him to sixth. Didi’s been swinging pretty well and Castro’s been swinging really well. Again, [Judge] is really important to us.”
But with Bronx native and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor watching from “The Judge’s Chambers,” Judge again failed to rule. He walked twice, flied out and popped up with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth.
“It’s a long season for a rookie,” CC Sabathia said after the Yankees’ 6-2 victory. “Hopefully, he can come out of it at the right time.”
Judge did make a heads-up defensive play. With the Yankees leading 2-1 in the sixth and Rafael Devers on first, Hanley Ramirez hit a soft fly to right that Judge pretended to have a bead on, deking Devers. It dropped in, but Judge threw out Devers at second.
Judge was unfazed about tumbling a bit down the lineup card. “I’m just a player,” he said. “Wherever they put me, I’m just happy to be in the lineup.”
The Yankees were happy to have him in the lineup during the first half, when he was always a must-see at-bat. He took a .329/.448/.691 slash line, 30 homers and 66 RBIs in 84 games into the All-Star break and launched all those rockets to win the Home Run Derby.
Then he lost his way. Judge began this game with a .181/.342/.349 slash line, seven homers, 16 RBIs and 67 strikeouts in 149 at-bats (43 games) in the second half.
His left shoulder has bothered him, but he got to rest it Monday and Tuesday, and he said it now “feels good.”
“I’ve been going every day since April 2,” Judge said, “so getting a couple of days off I think helped it out for the long haul.”
Girardi said Judge’s place in the order will be “a day-by-day decision.” The manager also feels it’s unfair to say the Yankees’ playoff chances rest squarely on Judge.
“I think it really is because there’s eight other guys in the lineup every day,” Girardi said. “So it’s a lot of weight that you’re putting on one kid, which is not fair. The reality is that you have to handle it, and we will continue to encourage him.”