Aaron Judge keeps it simple.
At least publicly.
After homering against the Dodgers for the third straight game on Sunday night, he was asked what seemed to have changed at the plate for him. He produced a slight grin.
“Balls are just falling in and guys aren’t catching them,” he said. “That’s about it.”
There is more to it than that, of course. Besides, of late, balls haven’t just been falling in. They’ve started to clear the fence easily and with regularity, something that largely had been missing from the slugger’s game since he returned from the oblique injury that cost him nearly two months of the season.
The power no longer appears to be missing.
After going 3-for-5 with a homer and two doubles in Wednesday’s 7-3 victory over the Mariners that completed a three-game sweep, Judge finished the nine-game trip to the West Coast 14-for-39 with six homers, three doubles and nine RBIs.
“When he went through that period of time where he didn’t hit homers for a little bit, a lot of people were talking about it, asking why he’s not hitting homers,” Gary Sanchez said through his interpreter. “And I can tell you I wasn’t worried at all because I know what kind of talent he has, I know what he can do on the field, and right now he’s hot. Thirty [homers] is not out of reach for him right now.”
Judge, now hitting .277 with an .899 OPS, 18 homers and 42 RBIs in 78 games, had been in a slump. He hit .180 (16-for-89) with a .572 OPS, one homer and five RBIs — and 33 strikeouts — in the 23 games preceding the trip west.
The Yankees were off Thursday before starting a three-game series at the Stadium against the A’s, who swept them in Oakland to start the just-completed trip, They have their eyes locked on securing home-field advantage for October — they lead the major leagues by a half-game over the Dodgers and one game over the Astros — and the timing for Judge taking off is just right.
That was considered inevitable in the clubhouse, as Sanchez indicated, and the feeling was shared in the manager’s office.
“I’m glad to see him getting results, but I knew that’s a matter of time,” Aaron Boone said. “As I’ve said, you’re not going to hold greatness down for too long. And he’s certainly a guy that the bigger the stage, he enjoys that. It’s just good to see him, I feel like, really starting to lock it in and string together a lot of quality at-bats, and when he’s doing that, the damage is going to follow.”
Added Sanchez: “He’s getting hot at the right time, playoffs are around the corner and I just hope everything keeps on going and that the production continues. There’s no shock.”
Judge said there was no pressure when things weren’t going well.
“You can’t get frustrated,” he said. “You get frustrated, you’re going to be in a bigger hole. I have faith in my teammates to pick me up. I never feel like I have to do everything. I knew, 'OK, I might not be getting on base, but I know the guys behind me are doing their job.’ And we’re winning ballgames, so that’s still the most important thing.”
During the slump, Judge several times mentioned “missing” his pitch as part of the explanation, something he referenced in discussing coming out of it.
“Sometimes you don’t get too many pitches over the plate and you try to chase and go after some stuff that’s not something you can drive,” he said. “So I’ve just been trying to stay in my zone, and you get rewarded for that.”
Brett Gardner, who is close to Judge, has seen this script before.
“When he’s locked in and at his best, he’s the best player on the field,” Gardner said. “And I think we’re seeing that the last week or so.”
Aaron Judge by the month
March: 4-for-12 (.333), .467 OBP, .333 SLG, 0 HR, 2 RBI
April: 17-for-61 (.279), .392 OBP, .557 SLG, 5 HR, 9 RBI
May: on injured list
June: 8-for-24 (.333), .467 OBP, .583 SLG, 2 HR, 6 RBI
July: 24-for-93 (.258), .373 OBP, .441 SLG, 4 HR, 11 RBI
August: 28-for-102 (.275), .362 OBP, .559 SLG, 7 HR, 14 RBI