The Yankees kept waiting Wednesday for the Aaron Judge moment that never came. More than six hours of mostly torturous baseball, stretched over a doubleheader sweep by the Indians, and we didn’t get that reassuring thunderclap, the crowd-pleasing boom to convince everyone that Judge was OK after a two-day hiatus.
Without that moment, coming off this miserable day for the Yankees, the doubt surrounding Judge deepens. In total, Judge went 1-for-4 with a walk, his only hit a ground-ball single that shortstop Francisco Lindor gloved on the edge of the outfield grass. There were the obligatory strikeouts — two to be exact — but none of the fireworks that used to accompany those deflating trips to the plate in between.
So Judge had to be satisfied with just digging his feet into the batter’s box again, like a little kid climbing back on his bike after numerous falls. Here on the brink of September, with the Yankees desperately clinging to the top wild-card spot, that doesn’t feel as if it’s going to be enough. But that’s what they’re getting from Judge at the moment.
“I was glad to be back out there,” Judge said.
Joe Girardi employed a curious strategy for returning Judge to the lineup. He didn’t start him in Game 1 -- unknown to Judge before being told by reporters that same morning — because Girardi didn’t want to push him too hard physically on the first day back. But if the manager intended for Judge to be eased back into duty, that’s not how things unfolded either.
Instead, with the Yankees down 2-1 in the ninth inning of the first game, and two outs, Girardi sent up Judge as a pinch hitter to face Indians closer Cody Allen. The Stadium crowd welcomed Judge with a standing ovation, and the fans remained on their feet during his at-bat, but this was hardly the perfect scenario for him.
With the late-afternoon shadows creeping between the plate and mound, Allen was a more vexing foe, and Judge whiffed on a full-count fastball to end the game. Whatever magic Judge had mustered during the first half seems to have vanished — and it was wishful thinking to believe that a two-day breather would refill the tank. Girardi pointed to the single and walk as signs of optimism, but the skidding Yankees need more, whether the manager admits it or not.
“Our hope is that he gets back on track,” Girardi said, “and does some damage.”
The Judge conversation no longer involves the damage he can inflict, but how much the rookie outfielder has sustained, particularly to his left shoulder. That dominated the pregame interviews with both Judge and Girardi, with each downplaying the severity. Judge did acknowledge that he has been receiving regular treatment on the shoulder, but nothing stronger than ice. As for possible anti-inflammatory injections, Judge insists that hasn’t moved beyond the discussion phase, and he wouldn’t blame his offensive woes purely on the sore shoulder.
“I couldn’t tell you,” said Judge, who has plunged to .280 from .329 at the All-Star break. “I think it’s just part of the grind of the season, just kind of the body wearing down. I’ve just got to make adjustments and fight through them.”
Fair enough. Girardi was less diplomatic on the subject after the doubleheader sweep, his mood darkened by watching the Yankees’ anemic offense. A reporter was barely able to get the words “Judge” and “shoulder” out of his mouth before the manager jumped the question.
“I’ve been asked this a thousand times,” Girardi said sternly. “That is not the mechanical issue.”
Whatever the glitch, it would help if the Yankees solved the matter ASAP. Girardi essentially tossed up a Hail Mary by inserting Judge in the cleanup spot for Game 2 and the move came up empty. We can’t really blame him, though. The Yankees’ lineup, from top to bottom, has been dismal lately, so Girardi doesn’t have a ton of options. They had scored two runs in 17 innings Wednesday before Greg Bird’s three-run homer in the ninth.
Judge isn’t solely to blame for the the Yankees’ downward spiral. But now would be a great time for him to be part of the solution rather than keep contributing to the problem.