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Jordan Montgomery struggles, Yankees have winning streak snapped with loss to Rays

Yankees manager Joe Girardi takes the ball from

Yankees manager Joe Girardi takes the ball from Jordan Montgomery during the third inning on Sunday, July 30, 2017 at Yankee Stadium. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Major League Baseball offers no official definition for a slump, but by any measure, Aaron Judge certainly is in one.

Had Judge achieved success in his ninth-inning at-bat Sunday at Yankee Stadium, he would have pre-empted all the questions about his post All-Star slide. But it was another tough at-bat, game and week for the player whom some anointed the face of baseball during his spectacular first half.

With the Yankees trailing the Rays 5-3 in the ninth, Judge came up with one out and runners on first and second after Brett Gardner singled and Clint Frazier walked. Judge already had struck out twice, notably with runners on second and third and none out in the fifth, an inning in which the Yankees did not score.

“I’m gonna win this game, that’s my plan,’’ Judge said of his final at-bat. “That’s my approach. Guys ahead of me had good at-bats, got on base, now it’s a chance to win it.’’

Rays closer Alex Colome threw the first pitch for a called strike. “I went up there looking for a little slider or cutter I could handle. First-pitch fastball, 97 [mph] got me,’’ Judge said.

On the next pitch, he said he “went after the cutter and just missed it.’’ That resulted in a foul fly down the rightfield line that was caught by first baseman Trevor Plouffe for the second out.

Matt Holliday then hit a hard grounder to third for the final out, and the Rays snapped the Yankees’ winning streak at six with the 5-3 victory.

Now Judge had a lot of explaining to do after an 0-for-4 day. He was hitting .329 before the All-Star break, but a 9-for-57 stretch that includes 25 strikeouts has dropped his average to .302. After hitting 30 homers before the break, he has added only three in 16 games since then.

On many minds is Judge’s .179 batting average and 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats in 2016.

“I think it’s totally different,’’ he said. “It’s just that part of the season, everyone goes through it, just gotta keep grinding. You’re not going to be 100 percent, be on your ‘A’ game 100 percent of the time. You got to grind through those at-bats and try to produce and help the team.

“I feel good I’m hitting [.302] in the big leagues with 33 homers. I feel good. Every time I step to the plate, it’s Opening Day. No matter what you did in the past, it’s just about what can I do this at-bat?’’

Judge did admit to feeling some frustration. “The tough thing is, and the battle is when you’re not getting hits, you’re trying to do a little bit too much,’’ he said. “You’re swinging at pitches out of the zone. That’s where you kind of step out and slow things down and say, ‘Hey keep sticking to your approach, keep sticking to your plan.’ That’s a grind, though. That’s the fun part about it. It’s frustrating at times. You gotta accept it, learn from it and move on.’’

Joe Girardi said he has no concerns about Judge’s struggles at the plate. “What has it been, 2 1⁄2 weeks? There’s lots of guys who have tough months,’’ he said. “I’m not going to make too much of it. I still think he’s remaining level-headed. I don’t think he’s happy with the results the last couple of weeks, but that’s fairly normal. He’s still the same guy day in and day out.’’

It was a rough day at the plate for most of the Yankees except Ronald Torreyes, who hit a two-run homer and an RBI double to account for half of their four hits. They had nine other baserunners with seven walks, a hit batsman and an error but went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10. A second-and-third, none-out situation in the fifth and a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity in the sixth produced nothing.

Holliday, who said he is fully recovered from a viral infection, went 0-for-5 to drop to 9-for-66 since being activated after the All-Star break. He has one homer and four RBIs in 16 games in that span.

It was a mixed bag on the mound. Starter Jordan Montgomery (7-6) lasted only 2 2⁄3 innings, giving up four runs, a day after starter Caleb Smith went only 3 1⁄3 innings. Luis Cessa, who was sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after the game to make room for newly acquired Jaime Garcia, allowed one hit in 3 1⁄3 scoreless innings. Montgomery, Cessa, Chasen Shreve and Chad Green combined to strike out 16 and walk eight.

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