Aaron Judge’s scorching stretch making hasty concerns a distant memory

SAN DIEGO – Shortly after Aaron Judge’s batting average fell to .197 on May 2, Aaron Boone fielded a question asking if it was best to keep the slugger batting third.

“Yeah, we’ll see,” Boone said half-heartedly in Baltimore. Such a change would have been drastic, especially after what the manager had said just a few moments earlier.

“Somebody’s gonna pay big time,” Boone insisted. “He’ll get it going, and look out when he does.”

As of Sunday morning, Judge was hitting .423/.544/1.056 with 12 doubles, 11 home runs and 21 RBI over 21 games since May 2.

With a two-run shot in the first inning of the Yankees’ 4-1 win over the Padres on Saturday, Judge left the yard in his fourth straight game for the third time in his career. He also hit his eighth home run in his last 13 games and 14th in his last 30.

“Just watching greatness,” said Marcus Stroman, who threw six scoreless innings on Saturday. “Sometimes you can take it for granted to be honest. But I’ll be sitting with my grandkids at some point saying I got the opportunity to play with Aaron Judge, Juan Soto and Gerrit Cole, because those are going to be three of the best players to ever play this game.”

With 17 total dingers, Judge, Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson and Houston’s Kyle Tucker were tied for the major league lead.

No one, however, had a higher slugging percentage or OPS than Judge’s marks of .637 and 1.050. His .413 OPB ranked third, and his average climbed to .280 – more than 100 points higher than it was one month ago.

Not bad for a guy whose slow start sparked hasty panic from some Yankees fans. All that talk has quickly become a distant memory.

“It’s part of it,” Judge said when asked if talks about his early-season struggles annoyed him. “It’s a long season. There’s gonna be bumps and bruises and good times and bad times. The most important thing is staying focused on trying to improve a little bit each day, but I can’t get caught up in what people are saying and not saying.

“I’ve got a job to do. Especially in New York, you have to show up every single day. I wasn’t showing up. I understand why there were a lot of questions. It’s past us.”

Showing up hasn’t been an issue for Judge in weeks, and he hasn’t only been contributing via the longball.

Judge also hit his American League-leading 18th double on Saturday. According to Stathead’s Katie Sharp, Judge became the only player since 1901 with 12+ doubles and 11+ homers in a 20-game span.

While Judge downplayed that feat in typical fashion, Aaron Boone described it as “unbelievable” yet unsurprising.

“I’ve witnessed a lot of amazing baseball from Aaron Judge now for the last six, seven years,” the manager said. “So anytime he does something that’s a first or unique or whatever adjective you want to put on it, it frankly doesn’t surprise me just because I know how good he is. When he gets locked in, it’s just different.”

Alex Verdugo had a funnier take on Judge’s statistical anomaly.

“That’s my season,” Verdugo quipped. “He’s special man. He really is. He’s a captain for a reason. He got paid what he did for a reason.”

As the Yankees’ cleanup hitter, Verdugo has had the closest seat in the house for Judge’s remarkable stretch: the on-deck circle.

Verdugo noted that batting behind No. 99 requires a lot of jumping, as he has to celebrate whenever his taller teammate crosses the plate after a home run.

“I gotta get up there, do the arm [bump] with him. It’s just a lot,” said Verdugo, still messing around. “I mean, I gotta jump about 2 feet higher than he does, so it’s a grind.”

Verdugo added that his legs are okay despite all the extra exercise, but he had more than just jokes to offer when asked about Judge and the tear he’s been on.

“This is what I’ve seen just playing against him throughout the whole course of my career,” said Verdugo, who was acquired from the Red Sox over the winter. “This is kind of what I was accustomed to seeing being an opposing player. Seeing him do it every day and obviously the slow start to how hot he’s been now, it’s crazy. It’s crazy. He’s a different animal. He just needs to touch it and the ball jumps off way different than other guys.”