TORONTO — Aaron Judge doesn’t want to answer questions about it, but the Yankees slugger has responded to the failed extension talks perfectly. Judge has had a first month of the season that is reminiscent of his Rookie of the Year season in 2017.
“I go back to last year, the second half of the season,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “You know, he and Giancarlo [Stanton] really carried us offensively. The final few months of that season he was in line with what he’s doing now.
“I just think we’re seeing a great player that now has a lot of big league experience. I think coupled with his talent and his preparation and just the experience he’s gained has made him just a more polished hitter.”
Judge heads into the Yankees’ Friday night’s series opener against the Rangers at the Stadium tied with Anthony Rizzo and Colorado’s C.J. Cron for the most home runs (9) in baseball. He leads the majors in barrel percentage per plate appearance (18.6) and hard hit percentage (67.2) and is second in the big leagues in average exit velocity (96.8) behind Stanton.
In other words, Judge is having a perfect season to get teams lining up to pay him when he is a free agent at the end of the season. Judge, however, is adamant that the failed extension talks with the Yankees, which became uncomfortably public for him, are not the driving motivation for him this season.
He doesn’t need that.
“When I’ve got Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo behind me and Aaron Hicks or [DJ] LeMahieu in front of me, they push you a little bit,” Judge said. “They’re always getting on base or having great at-bats. That motivates the team. It motivates me to go out there and hit.”
In 2017, Judge hammered 52 home runs to win top rookie honors in the American League. That coming-out year came with high expectations for his future. It was followed, however, by years of frustration as he was slowed by injuries. From 2018 to 2020, Judge was only in 63% of the Yankees games because of a bunch of injuries, which included a broken wrist and a strained oblique, which is more common for a big slugger and a concern for future employers. Last season, however, Judge played in 148 games, hitting 39 homers, and this season he’s started 22 of 25 games so far.
“I think the biggest thing is being healthy and being out there,” Judge said. “When you’ve got nagging stuff going on, it’s tough to be at your best. I wouldn’t say this is the best I’ve felt, but we’re getting there.”
After a record number of injuries in 2019, the Yankees made a commitment to try and reduce them through strength and conditioning. They reorganized that department along with their training department and Boone has been committed to managing players’ workload to try and prevent injuries.
That has shown results for both Judge and Stanton.
“I think they continue to evolve. I think they continue to know who they are, what things work and don’t work for them. I think you get better and out of necessity of how to take care of yourself and how to prepare yourself, coupled with trying to be also on the cutting edge of how do we maximize this,” Boone said of Judge and Stanton staying healthy. “We say the best ability is availability. I think they understand that.”
Judge has started this season strong. So far, his numbers (.293/.356/.652 with a 1.009 OPS) look very similar to his 2017 numbers (.284/.422/.627 with a 1.049 OPS). The 30-year-old, however, isn’t yet feeling it. All month, he’s talked about just “grinding,” out at-bats until he finds his consistency.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” he said. “I’ve got to lock it in for five at-bats, especially with guys on base.”
Source: Berkshire mont