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Worried About Aaron Judge? He Isn’t.

Fresh off a brief question-and-answer session with reporters, Aaron Judge headed out of the Yankees clubhouse and into a rare night off in New York. His plans were typically low-key — dinner with friends — and similarly free from worry, despite a lingering slump at the plate. Judge had no intention of reviewing his 0-for-4, three-strikeout afternoon in the Yankees’ 6-5 victory over the Orioles on Wednesday.

“Short memory,” he said, citing the mantra that has kept him grounded during an especially tough month.

Judge is batting just .200 in August with only one home run since July 20, a span of 95 at-bats. A less-secure slugger might begin looking for a telling flaw in his stroke, spending hours in front of a video screen. But Judge insisted his only homework would be studying the corps of Indians pitchers he will likely face during the coming four-game series.

Such is the emotional makeup of the 27-year-old star whose path to success has been anything but linear. When Judge says “baseball can really humble you,” he is referring to his struggle just to make contact in 2016, when he batted .179 in a 27-game stint, striking out in half of his at-bats. But Judge proceeded to raise his average by more than 100 points in 2017, crushing 52 home runs and setting a Yankees’ record for most home runs at home in a single season.

Such a disparity has left its mark on Judge and fuels his enduring Zen.

“Aaron has dealt with failure; he’s seen both ends of the spectrum,” said Brett Gardner. “We all go through slumps, but he’s one guy who knows how to deal with them.”

The restraint manifests both on and off the field. His fellow Yankees say Judge’s professionalism is the template for the entire roster: He doesn’t smash garbage cans or water coolers, even after questionable calls from umpires. In the sixth inning on Tuesday night, for example, Judge took a third strike that a subsequent replay showed was several inches off the plate. But instead of arguing with the umpire Marvin Hudson. Judge instead walked a straight, quiet line back to the dugout.

“What am I going to do, stop the game, get myself ejected?” Judge said. “We’ve got Gio and Didi coming up after me. I’m not going take the energy away from them.”

D.J. LeMahieu, who joined the Yankees before this season, added: “People watch Aaron all the time, which isn’t an easy thing to deal with. I mean, it’s one thing to be a great player, it’s another thing to be a leader. We feed off him. You think, ‘If he can handle it, so can I.’”

ImageJudge and Mike Tauchman celebrating after Wednesday’s win.
CreditJim Mcisaac/Getty Images

To a man, the Yankees are convinced Judge will return to his career norms in both batting average and power — as long as he avoids further injury. Judge missed two months of the 2018 season with a fractured wrist and was sidelined for 55 games this year with a severe oblique strain. Carlos Beltran, a special advisor to the team who dealt with a similar injury during his playing career, predicted Judge’s oblique would remain tender for the rest of the year and thus cut into his power output.

Judge disputed that assessment, however, and said his current home run drought had nothing to do with his health.

“I feel 100 percent, there’s no problem,” he said before hinting at the real culprit. “It’s a little something with my top hand, which I’m working on.”

The Yankees would obviously welcome the return of Judge’s long balls. They have an unobstructed path to the playoffs, but the season-long struggles of their rotation will come into sharper focus in October, only increasing the need for run production.

The Yankees have been lucky that LeMahieu, Gio Urshela and, lately, Gleyber Torres have filled the void created by Judge’s struggle. The Yankees scored 33 runs in a four-game sweep of the Orioles and remain comfortably ahead in the American League East.

But that was their final game this season against the Orioles, and not every pitching staff will be as easy to overwhelm as Baltimore’s was. The Indians, who have surged to within a half-game of the Twins at the top of the American League Central, are second in the league with a 3.68 E.R.A. and represent a better litmus test for the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. Manager Aaron Boone is playing the long game, however, especially when it comes to Judge.

“He’s not a good player, he’s a great player,” Boone said. “I still contend it’s a matter of time before he’ll get rolling and carry us.”

Judge admits the current slump “stinks” — he’s the only Yankee with 20 or more plate appearances against the Orioles whose slugging percentage was under .500. But he continues to live by an ironclad ethos: stay cool.

“If I was worried about day to day results, man, I would be in the wrong business,” he said. “I mean, you can go 4-for-4 with four terrible swings and the next night go 0-for-4 even though you smoke a couple of pitches. And then people ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ Well, nothing’s wrong, that’s just baseball.”

The lesson here? Judge smiled and said, “just block out the noise and keep moving forward.”

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Source: NYT

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