Following the Yankees’ 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon, slumping rookie slugger Aaron Judge – who’s hit a measly .169 with seven home runs in his last 35 games – fielded questions from the media inside the clubhouse. On his left shoulder was a pack of ice, heavily wrapped around him as if he was a pitcher.
“It’s not affecting me at all,” the 25-year-old repeated once again.
Somewhere between the lines, the root of Judge’s second-half slump resides, whether it’s an apparent shoulder injury, poor hitting mechanics, physical and mental exhaustion, or even the notorious Home Run Derby.
Neither Judge nor the Yankees’ coaching staff believes the issue will linger much longer, but there are varying opinions as to how this skid began, and how it can be fixed.
For one, hitting coach Alan Cockrell reportedly believes Judge’s mechanics are sound, but he may be pressing just a tad.
“Mechanically, he’s doing the same things,” Cockrell told Brendan Kuty of NJ.com. “He’s being pitched a little differently, a little tougher. Not getting as much to hit. He wants to do well. He wants to help the team. Sometimes, you expand [the strike zone] a little bit.
“I think whenever you have the kind of success that he had in the first half, they’re going to change their sequence a little bit and they’re going to try to pitch you a little differently.”
That kind of first-half success Judge experienced was both distinct and unorthodox. In 84 games prior to the All-Star break, Judge was hitting .329, with a Major League-leading 30 home runs, while striking out in 36-percent of his at-bats (109-of-301). Since the season picked up again on July 14, he’s struck out in 46-percent of his at-bats, and along the way, he’s extended his strikeout streak to 37 consecutive games – a new Major League record.
In short, the Yankees’ honeymoon with Judge is over, as his skid has precluded the club from making steady progress as of late. However, Judge’s woes haven’t forced much change in the batting order, as manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Saturday thatJudge will continue to hit third in the lineup.
“I’m not going to move him,” Girardi told the New York Daily News. “He’s still dangerous. He’s still getting on at a pretty high clip, and he’s on in front of some other guys that are swinging the bat pretty well. So he’s going to stay there.”
While Cockrell hasn’t noticed mechanical changes with Judge, Girardi apparently has.
“There are some adjustments he’s made and we’ve seen improvements but at times there are still mechanics that are off that were not off in the first half,” Girardi told NJ.com.
In baseball, it’s all about making adjustments, and that point is agreed upon by all parties.
“That’s the cat and mouse game that goes on as long as you’re in this game,” Cockrell said. “That’s going to be an adjustment. Alex [Rodriguez] used to talk about it all the time. They make an adjustment, you make an adjustment. He’s just dealing with that a little bit. He’s a determined, hard-working kid.
“He’ll get through it though. He’s mentally as tough as any young kid I’ve been around in 34 years. He’ll get through it.”
During Judge’s slide, he’s had only two multi-hit games, compared to 29 he had before the break. Judge isn’t blind to his slump, either. He realizes he’s not getting the job done, but that doesn’t mean he’s lost confidence in his ability to rally from adversity.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Judge said. “It’s a little disappointing. But there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t pout. You can’t cry. You’ve got to move on.”