The outfielder debuted on Aug. 13, 2016 and hit a home run in his first major league at-bat off the Rays’ Matt Andriese. A highly-anticipated prospect, Judge proceeded to hit another home run the following day, and he added a two-hit day in his third game.
“You think you got it all figured out,” Judge told the Daily News on Saturday, a day before the seven-year anniversary of his first MLB game. “You know, hitting a home run your first at-bat, your second game, third game, you kind of think you’ve got it all figured out. But the game adjusts to you.”
Indeed, it does.
Despite the strong first impression, Judge went on to hit .179/.263/.345 over 27 games in 2016. He only homered two more times, and he totaled just 10 RBI.
While the numbers weren’t pretty, that cup off coffee proved to be an educational experience for Judge, who learned to train and travel at the highest level.
“It’s completely different,” he said of the big leagues. “In the minor leagues, you master a level and then you get moved up and have a new challenge. Here in the big leagues, this is the top. Now it’s just about adjusting game to game to pitchers and teams that have different schemes for what they want to do to you. So that was huge for my development, just to get an understanding of what this next level is about. So when I went into the next offseason, I knew how to prepare.”
Pitchers have had a much harder time adjusting against Judge since that 2016 season.
He set a rookie record with 52 home runs in 2017, when he won the American League’s Rookie of the Year award, and he hit 54 longballs from 2018-2019 while missing some time with injuries. Health limited Judge to just 28 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but he crushed another 39 homers in 2021.
The reigning MVP is coming off a historic season in which he reset the AL home run record with 62 bombs. That performance earned Judge a nine-year, $360 million contract this past offseason, when he was also named the Yankees’ captain.
“He’s just such a great player between the lines,” Aaron Boone said before Sunday’s game against the Marlins. “He’s such a great leader in the room. He’s just such a quality person to have as kind of the face of your franchise and leading your group. You couldn’t draw it up any better.
“I think everyone in that clubhouse feels like they know him really well and have a really strong relationship with him. He invests in his relationships with his teammates. It’s something that’s very important for him. And I think because he does that, it allows him to challenge guys, comfort guys, get on guys, whatever he needs to do. He’s able to do that, and it’s impactful because of the relationships that he has with each of them.”
Boone called Judge one of the faces of baseball, pairing him with the Angels’ two-way superstar, Shohei Ohtani. While Judge has battled more injuries this season — including a torn toe ligament that isn’t fully healed — he has continued to play at a high level when healthy.
Entering Sunday’s game, Judge was hitting .284/.415/.638 with 22 home runs, 45 RBI and a 187 OPS+.
But unlike seven years ago, he no longer thinks he has it all figured out, regardless of what he’s accomplished in the years since.
“I get humbled every day,” Judge said. “It’s the big leagues. “You face tough guys. It doesn’t matter if it was back in 2016 or last year or even this year. This is a humbling game.”
LEMAHIEU READY FOR ATLANTA
DJ LeMahieu said Sunday that his calf has been feeling better and that he expects to return for the Yankees’ series in Atlanta, which begins Monday. LeMahieu added that he was prepared to play Sunday in Miami.
“My mind was ready to go today,” he said. “So tomorrow. Unless something happens today.”
Boone added that LeMahieu could be an option off the bench on Sunday, and he hoped to have him in the lineup on Monday.
LeMahieu first felt an issue in his calf while taking swings in the cage before Wednesday’s game in Chicago. As of Sunday morning, he hasn’t played since.
LeMahieu used words like “cramping” and “tight” to describe the injury, but tests have shown that he doesn’t have a strain.
“It just kept grabbing on me,” added LeMahieu, who planned on going through a full pregame routine on Sunday. “It’s calmed down, though.”
LeMahieu’s absence came at a poor time for him and the Yankees, as the infielder had begun to hit well after months of struggling.
LeMahieu is slashing .324/.395/.382 over his last nine games. He’s hitting .319/.427/.435 in 20 games since the All-Star break ended.
“It’s just frustrating no matter what,” LeMahieu said when asked about the timing of his calf injury. “I want to be out there, and I take pride in being out there.”
Carlos Rodón threw a two-part bullpen on Saturday that went well, according to Boone. He’ll head to Tampa from Miami for a simulated game. Boone hopes that sets the southpaw up to come off the 15-day injured list as soon as he’s eligible.
Rodón, who has a 7.33 ERA over six starts, went on the IL with a left hamstring strain on Aug. 7. He has also battled forearm and back issues in his first year with the Yankees.