It was coming up on midnight at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Rochester on Friday night and Aaron Judge was having dinner with his parents after Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s game. His manager was there, too, and Al Pedrique came over to inform Judge that there was something new on the menu for him.
“Hey, you better hurry up with this meal,” Pedrique told Judge. “You’ve got to be up in New York tomorrow.”
Tyler Austin had received the word from Pedrique earlier Friday. He was Yankees-bound, too.
The day after Alex Rodriguez said goodbye, the page turned on a new era as two of the Yankees’ top prospects were summoned. The 24-year-olds were inserted in the starting lineup Saturday against the Rays at Yankee Stadium, Judge in rightfield and Austin at first base. Then they hit back-to-back homers in the second inning of the Yankees’ 8-4 win, the first time teammates have homered in their first major-league plate appearances in the same game in major-league history. Both finished 2-for-4.
“They’re here to play,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “I think Judge will play every day. I think Austin will play some because [the retiring Mark Teixeira] is still active.”
They joined recently recalled Gary Sanchez, 23, who served as the DH. Luis Severino, 22, will be the starting pitcher in Sunday’s series finale. The youth movement is in motion.
Joe Girardi has expectations for the two newest guys.
“To play at a high level,” the manager said. “I’ve said over the last couple of weeks that there were more coming. Judge had a little bit of a setback where he was out for three weeks [with a knee injury]. He’s swung the bat extremely well. We’ve seen a lot of progress.
“Tyler Austin has had a fabulous year. We’re excited about him being here. He was a big prospect a couple of years ago, went through some wrist injuries, but is healthy. He’s played at an extremely high level. So we’re really excited. The thing is, you don’t want to put too much on them too early. That’s the thing. But we believe that these guys can really help us.”
Not only did Austin have to overcome testicular cancer when he was 17 and that wrist injury in the minors that set him back in 2013 and 2014, but the 2010 13th-round pick had a down year last season and was designated for assignment last Sept. 1.
The other teams passed on claiming him, and the Yankees gave him a non-roster invitation to spring training. After batting .260 in 50 games with Double-A Trenton, he took off again with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting .323 with 24 doubles, 13 homers and 49 RBIs in 57 games.
“It’s been a bumpy road for sure,” said Austin, a righthanded hitter who’s most comfortable at first base and rightfield but also can play leftfield and third base. “I’ve battled some injuries, some difficult years.
“ . . . I’m just excited to be here. To be really honest, at the beginning of the year, I didn’t think that I would be. But with all the hard work, I finally made it here.”
The top of Brett Gardner’s right ankle was sore and swollen after he was hit by a pitch Friday night, and he might miss a few games. So the timetable to bring up the righthanded-hitting Judge was moved up.
The 6-7, 275-pound Judge, a 2013 first-round pick, went 1-for-19 in spring training but was batting .270 with 19 homers and 65 RBIs in 93 Triple-A games. He had been having a good August, batting .353 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 10 games. Now his August has gotten even better.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “I really can’t put it into words what it means. It’s something you dream about as a kid. Finally getting this opportunity with the New York Yankees, it’s something special.”