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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

After another 0-fer, it’s time for Yankees to drop Aaron Judge out of the ‘3’ hole

Aaron Judge struck out for the 37th straight

Aaron Judge struck out for the 37th straight game in the Yankees' 5-1 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. Photo Credit: AP / Steven Senne

BOSTON

Anyone can see that Aaron Judge is not the same destroyer of baseballs that he was during the first half of this season. To make that evaluation, all you need is eyes.

What has been more difficult to determine is just how much this fall from Olympus is affecting Judge, and also the steps the Yankees should take while the rookie is trying to straighten himself out.

For as many questions as we ask of Judge and Joe Girardi, their responses unfailingly point to a turnaround. They’re not providing answers, only dispensing optimism. But sometimes it’s the little things that tell you what you need to know.

Take Sunday, for example, when Judge’s slump deepened with another 0-for-4 in the Yankees’ 5-1 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The attention mostly focused on Judge’s eighth-inning strikeout against Addison Reed, which extended his MLB-record strikeout streak to 37 games. One of the better clues to Judge’s mindset, however, came an inning earlier, when he got deked by Mookie Betts and lollipopped a throw to the cutoff man on a shallow fly ball, a mental lapse that allowed Betts to sprint from second to third.

Evidently, Betts remembered the same glitch by Judge earlier in the series. So as soon as Judge caught the ball and lazily flipped it toward the infield, Betts tagged up and bolted for third.

Betts was stranded, but that doesn’t excuse Judge’s brain cramp. And it begs the bigger question: Is he starting to take his offensive worries to the field with him? If true, that would be a significant red flag.

“That’s a legitimate question,” Girardi said after the loss. “Is it weighing on him? You try to get a feel for that.”

We ask this because such behavior is nothing like the Judge of the first half. He not only put up historic numbers for a rookie — .329, 30 homers and an OPS of 1.139 — but was an alert baserunner and aggressive defender.

What’s happening now, however, looks as if Judge is being distracted by the grind of an especially frustrating period. He’s human, too. And just because he was Hercules in the first half doesn’t mean this post-break tumble is automatically going to reverse itself.

Judge’s decline has been steep, and despite flashes of power, he’s not producing like a No. 3 hitter for a team with playoff aspirations. He’s 21-for-124 with seven homers and 14 RBIs in 35 games after the break. He also is 4-for-28 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-32 against lefthanders in the second half.

“I’m not getting the job done as a three-hitter,” Judge said.

We’ve repeatedly said that Judge has handled his rookie experience nearly flawlessly. But he has been under extreme pressure that has only multiplied, and it’s got to have an impact, no matter the brave face he puts on after another 0-fer.

“It’s a little disappointing,” Judge said. “But there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t pout. You can’t cry. You’ve got to move on.”

There is something. Just like with Aroldis Chapman, whom Girardi demoted, the smart move would be to drop Judge in the order to get the burden of that No. 3 off his shoulders.

Girardi maintains that Judge needs to stay there because plenty of other guys are struggling. But with the Yankees not playing again until Tuesday in Detroit, the manager has two nights to sleep on it.

As the team packed up Sunday, Girardi suggested that he will stick with the status quo for now. “That’s my plan,” he said.

Time to ditch the plan, Joe — for the benefit of both Judge and the Yankees.

New York Sports