TAMPA, Fla. — In the battle for the Yankees’ rightfield job, Aaron Judge started spring training with the backing of Hal Steinbrenner, who talked up the huge slugger during the offseason.
Steinbrenner was on hand on Sunday to see the righthanded-hitting Judge go 2-for-3 and raise his spring training average to .321 in the Yankees’ 7-4 win over the Rays.
Steinbrenner also saw the other rightfield candidate, switch hitter Aaron Hicks, go 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs.
Both players are having excellent exhibition seasons, which means Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi will have a happily difficult decision to make before Sunday’s season opener at Tampa Bay.
“He’s played really well,” Girardi said of Hicks, who is batting .286 with three home runs and seven RBIs. “Offensively, he’s swung the bat well. He’s hit for power, he’s had some bunt base hits, he’s stolen bases. Defensively, he’s played well. He’s had a good spring. Both guys have had a good spring. These guys are taking it down to the wire. They’re both playing well.’’
Judge has two home runs and four RBIs. He has struck out 12 times in 53 at-bats, which is good for him (he struck out 42 times in 84 at-bats with the Yankees last season).
Entering spring training, it seemed that Judge had to win the job outright to stay in the majors. Girardi, however, said he and the coaching staff are trying to figure out ways to keep both players and perhaps rotate them with leftfielder Brett Gardner and centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, both of whom are lefthanded hitters.
“There’s different things we can talk about with those guys,” Girardi said. “Making sure everyone stays healthy and strong. There’s different things we can do.”
Hicks was supposed to be a platoon player last season but struggled as a righthanded hitter. Could he end up in a straight platoon with Judge?
“It’s something that we’ve talked about,” Girardi said. “We thought [Hicks] played better playing every day. But his time was pretty [limited] last year early on. I think he’s improved as a player. We like what we’ve seen. We liked what we saw at the end of last year before he got hurt. It’s something we’re going to have to iron out this next week how we do this.’’
The thinking with Judge, who will turn 25 late next month, was that he needs to play every day to keep his long swing honed. But the way he’s hitting in spring training could alter that theory.
“I think me and Hicksie both have the same mindset: We’re out there to take a job,” the 6-7 Judge said. “Every day we’re coming in, just trying to prepare the right way and put ourselves in the best position to just take a job. We’ll look up on April 2 and see where I’m at.
“Everyone talks about the power, but I just try to be a good hitter. I think the power comes from my size. I try to be the best hitter I can. Gap to gap, just make solid contact. Usually if I get 275 pounds behind a baseball, it goes a long way.”
Notes & quotes: The Yankees, who were off Monday, reassigned three players to the minor-league camp: former Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, infielder Donovan Solano and catcher Wilkin Castillo . . . Shortstop Gleyber Torres won the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees’ top rookie in spring training. Torres, 20, hit .448 with two homers and nine RBIs. He is slated to open the season at Double-A Trenton.