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Aaron Judge is pain-free and showing signs he's close to breaking out for the Yankees

The Yankees' Aaron Judge, left, and DJ LeMahieu

The Yankees' Aaron Judge, left, and DJ LeMahieu celebrate after scoring against the Blue Jays on a single by Aaron Hicks during the fifth inning in Buffalo, N.Y., on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Adrian Kraus

BUFFALO – After an uneventful 1-for-4 performance Monday night, Aaron Judge said he felt "close" to finding his rhythm at the plate.

Tuesday night brought even more tangible proof when the rightfielder, 2-for-17 in his first four games after returning from the injured list last week, went 3-for-5 with three runs scored in his fifth game.

"Felt like his last at-bat [Monday] night was pretty good where he just missed a ball the other way," Aaron Boone said after Tuesday’s 12-1 victory. "To get some results today with a few more hits, he's getting closer I think."

Speaking Monday night Judge, who flied to the track in right in the final at-bat that Boone referenced, felt he was doing exactly that.

"It feels good, no issues, I’ve been able to run around pain-free," Judge said of the right calf that’s caused two separate IL stints. "Feeling good in the box. It’s going to take four or five games for me to get the timing back. I didn’t have a chance to get a lot of live at-bats [while rehabbing], so it’s getting back slowly but surely. We’re getting close."

How close Judge is to again demonstrating his prodigious power, is the next question.

Before landing on the IL Aug. 12 – placed there against his wishes – Judge was off to a torrid start his first 17 games. He hit nine homers, drove in 20 runs and produced a 1.101 OPS. Judge entered Wednesday night hitting .276 with a .939 OPS overall on the season, but with zero extra-base hits since his return.

"Over time I think that is always boiling under the surface,’’ Boone said of Judge’s power. "As he gets really locked in then you will see him elevate some balls.’’

And, to be fair, it’s not as if Judge has been hitting only bleeders and flares since coming off the IL. His first-inning single to left on Tuesday, for example, came off his bat at 111.4-mph, second only the 113.1 mph exit velocity he registered on a hit Aug. 11, his last game before going to the IL.

Judge’s more typical exit velocity was all well and good for Boone, but the third-year Yankees manager was far more pleased and encourage by what he saw after the outfielder got to first – his calf appearing to be no worse for the wear as he scored from first on Aaron Hicks’ triple.

"To see him moving well, I think that is best thing right now," Boone said. "To see him bounce back and do all the things he needs to do to be Aaron Judge. I am confident he is going to get there, the guy we know in the box. It is great to get results and have another day where he is making improvements and clearly getting more comfortable in the box but for me right now is making sure he is physically bouncing back and moving like he will and I know the difference-maker that he is.’’

Gerrit Cole, after turning in a fourth straight gem to close out his regular season Tuesday, smiled in discussing Judge and what he brings to the clubhouse, calling the 6-7, 282-pound Judge "superhero-like."

"He's an integral part of our lineup, he's an integral part of our clubhouse, and he's an integral part of the industry, to say the least," Cole said.

"He can change the dynamic of a club just based on a smile, just based on a high-five," Cole said. "Often, even if he's not playing well, he keeps that same mentality, which is huge for us. Any time we can get rolling with Judgy on the field, it feels good."

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