The first requirement of a slump is the acknowledgment of it, and Aaron Judge passed that test merely by showing up at his locker after Sunday’s 0-for-4 performance against the Rays.
Derek Jeter set that tone of accountability during his tenure. He might not have been as loquacious as the media wanted, but at least he was available.
Judge knew he was going to face questions about his doldrums at the plate since the All-Star break. After Sunday’s game, he was 9-for-57 with three home runs and 25 strikeouts in 16 games since his electrifying performance in winning the Home Run Derby.
He may have been struggling at the plate, but he was ready to take some hits. There was some speculation that he might take a pass and remain off-limits until the clubhouse closed, but Judge showed up to try to explain the unexplainable in baseball — why a batter suddenly stops hitting.
“You come to the ballpark and your swing doesn’t feel 100 percent every day,’’ Judge said a day before hitting his 34th home run and walking twice in the Yankees’ 7-3 victory over the Tigers on Monday night at Yankee Stadium. “Your body doesn’t feel 100 percent. That’s why only a few people can play this game. It’s a tough grind. My main approach is focus on what I can control and what I can do. I can’t control what they’re going to try to do or how they’re going to pitch me or anything like that. If I focus on just sticking to my approach and taking quality swings, that’s all I can do.’’
Lee Elia, who was Alex Rodriguez’s hitting coach in Seattle, last week said he could have made a fortune if he had known the answer to why players stop hitting. So could everyone else.
“I still think he’s your third hitter,’’ manager Joe Girardi said Sunday when asked if Judge should be placed elsewhere in the lineup. “He still taking his walks, he’s got some hits.’’
Who knows what Judge, in his first full season, will become in the game? A prolific home run hitter with a .300 batting average? An average player? No one is willing to contemplate the latter after what he achieved before the All-Star break.
“I think it could be a little bit of a slump,” Girardi said. “I mean, hitting .340 and .330, that’s not easy to do in this game. Do I think he’s capable of hitting .300-plus? Absolutely. I still think he’s being fairly productive, he’s still taking his walks. He’s not as hot as he was before. I think that’s normal in this game. I think the expectations are so high. I think people for a while, we’re talking Triple Crown, and how often does that happen?
“I don’t think pitchers are attacking him much different. I just think there are some pitches that he has missed and maybe he’s a little off mechanically, which hitters go through.’’
Judge was up with a chance to win the game in the ninth inning against the Rays on Sunday but fouled out. Two times earlier he struck out, once with runners on second and third and none out in an inning in which the Yankees did not score.
Said Girardi, “Is that a guy that you want up in that situation right there? Yeah. I mean, no matter how he’s swinging, that’s the guy you want up in that situation because he can change it really quickly. Right now, he remains our third hitter.’’
Judge isn’t blaming his slump on opposing pitchers figuring him out.
“It hasn’t changed from the beginning of the year,’’ he said. “They’ve kind of gone back and forth. Some games they’ll attack me in, some teams will attack me away, other times they’ll go all off-speed. It’s a chess match that you just gotta adjust to.’’
Judge’s mantra is that what he’s done before — 30 home runs before the break, a batting average in the mid .300s — he can do again.
“It’s about trusting the process,’’ he said. “I know I’ve been in that situation before, I know I can succeed in this game and it’s just about sticking with that confidence and trying to keep having quality at-bats.’’