BOSTON — Just as he did with Aroldis Chapman for much of last week, Joe Girardi is trying to wish away his Aaron Judge problem, somehow convincing himself he’s not seeing what everybody else is seeing.
But as with Chapman, it’s clearly time to make a move for the good of the team, and the player as well, and get Judge out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup.
It’s not just that he’s hitting .170 since the All-Star break, or that on Sunday he extended his major league-record streak of striking out in 37 straight games by chasing an Addison Reed slider in his final at-bat.
That’s plenty of reason to move him down to, say, the No. 6 spot, but more to the point, for the first time during Judge’s fall from Superman status, I get the feeling it’s affecting him in a significant way.
For starters, after showing signs of breaking out, he’s once again missing some very hittable pitches, popping them up or fouling them off instead of driving them as he did in the first half of the season.
The result on Sunday was another 0-for-4 in the 5-1 loss to the Red Sox, which makes him 1-for-16 in his last four games, with very little hard contact.
And then there was a rare defensive mistake, as Mookie Betts fooled him into thinking he wasn’t tagging from second on a relatively shallow fly ball, but then broke for third and made it easily when Judge lobbed a throw in to the cut-off man.
Even Girardi admitted that’s the type of play to make you wonder if he’s in a bit of a daze because of his slump.
“That’s a legitimate question,” the manager said. “Do you question that maybe it is weighing on him a little bit? You try to get a feel for that.”
Nevertheless, Girardi said he plans to continue hitting Judge in the No. 3 spot, beginning again Tuesday in Detroit. He did soften his stance a bit from a day earlier, however, when he was firm and short in answering that question.
For one thing, Girardi admitted that he didn’t see good at-bats from Judge on Sunday. But he made the point that the Yankees don’t have a lot of hot hitters who would be obvious fits to replace Judge in the three-hole.
“Could I move him a spot or two?” he asked. “Yeah, but he’s still going to come up in big spots, I can tell you that.”
Perhaps, but the point is it could ease some pressure on Judge by moving him to sixth, just as Girardi finally concluded that moving Chapman out of the closer’s spot could do the same for him.
The manager says he has not seen signs Judge is feeling the weight of the slump, but he’s so mature and level-headed that he’s probably tough to read. As usual, the rookie answered all the questions for reporters after Sunday’s game, without a hint of irritation at repeatedly being asked to explain his failures.
Yet I found it significant that, when asked if he felt he was letting the team down, Judge linked the question to his role as the No. 3 hitter.
“Yeah, I’m not getting the job done,” he said. “You want to be there. I’m the No. 3 hitter — I’ve gotta be that guy for the team. We talk about passing the baton (taking walks), and I trust the guys behind me, but as the No. 3 hitter I want to be the guy with runners on every single time.
“So it’s disappointing, but there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t pout. You can’t cry. You keep working, and you move on.”
That sure sounds like a guy who feels some pressure hitting third. For that reason alone it’s worth moving him down in the lineup, which Girardi admitted could be similar to pulling Chapman from the closer’s role.
However, the manager said, “I have not gotten to that point yet. I’ve been saying I thought he made some adjustments, and having better at-bats. Maybe they weren’t today — I’ll have to look at it more closely.
“But we’ve been seeing some good pitching, too. He’s going to have his ups and downs like everybody else. I think he’s due for a good streak. And when he does it’s really going to help.”
Maybe Girardi will be proven right. I agree to the point that I think Judge will come out of this funk eventually and be fearsome again, one way or another, but right now I’m convinced he and the team would benefit from a change.
After all, every day is critical as the Yankees continue chasing the Red Sox. And just as Girardi eventually came around on Chapman, I wouldn’t be shocked if he thinks it over on Monday’s off day and tries something different on Tuesday.
At this point, how could it hurt?
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