TAMPA, Fla. — It took Aaron Judge 37 at-bats in spring training last year to hit his first Grapefruit League homer, a drought that led to one of the sillier spring narratives in some time.
There will be no such “where has the power gone?” narrative this time around.
In the third inning of Sunday's 7-4 victory over the Pirates, in his 13th exhibition at-bat, Judge obliterated a full-count fastball from lefthander Jose Quintana over the batter’s eye in dead center for his first home run.
To reinforce the point, Judge slammed a 94-mph fastball from righty JT Brubaker for an opposite-field two-run homer in the fifth that gave the Yankees a 7-4 lead. The first-pitch blast exited his bat at 115 mph.
“I mean, 115 the other way?” Aaron Boone said with a smile. “I was telling Luis [third base coach Luis Rojas], ‘The ball he hits to right-center there, I’m rounding first, the rightfielder’s cutting that ball off and I’m hoping it’s getting into the gap.’ It’s just different, man. But good to see him have some good at-bats.”
Boone smiled again.
“Obviously, the one over the batter’s eye, I’m leaving out,” he added. “But a really good day for him.”
Judge, who had three hits, is 5-for-14 (.357) with a 1.429 OPS in six games.
Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run homer and Josh Donaldson and Kyle Higashioka hit solo shots for the Yankees.
After Gerrit Cole’s 1-2-3, 14-pitch first inning in which he struck out two, Donaldson led off the bottom half against Quintana and hammered a 1-and-1 changeup off the bottom of the scoreboard in leftfield for his second Grapefruit League homer. Boone said Donaldson, who has leadoff experience, though not much since 2015, is a contender to bat first on occasion for the Yankees.
“He is definitely someone I would consider in that spot,” Boone said. “Guy that controls the strike zone like he does, the ability to get on, power, great hitter . . . Yeah, he’s definitely someone I would consider.”
Yankees add an arm
It wasn’t the pitching move Yankees fans have been clamoring for, but the club signed righthander Shelby Miller to a minor- league contract on Sunday and invited him to spring training. Miller, 31, is 38-57 with a 4.19 ERA in 163 games (132 starts) in parts of nine big-league seasons with the Cardinals, Atlanta, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Cubs and Pirates.
Opening Day doubts
Backup catcher Ben Rortvedt is making progress with his Grade 1 right oblique strain, but being ready by the April 7 season opener remains unlikely.
Rortvedt, acquired along with Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the deal in which Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela went to the Twins, has progressed only as far as taking dry swings and catching a bullpen session Sunday. He is not sure when he’ll be declared ready for regular batting practice, let alone appearing in a game. Rob Brantly remains the favorite to start the season as Higashioka’s backup.