MOOSIC, Pa. – The last time Aaron Judge played in a game at PNC Field, the up-and-coming outfielder was helping the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders prep for a deep post-season run. One that ended with a Triple-A National Championship title while he was up in the majors with the New York Yankees.
Fast-forward 34 months later to Tuesday night.
Tuesday was different.
Judge wasn’t a Baby Bomber looking for his first shot at the bigs. This time when Judge came to Moosic, he came as a former Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger and two-time All-Star working his way back from a left oblique strain that’s kept him out of major league game action since April 21.
But you wouldn’t have thought so by the looks of it. Judge homered in his third plate appearance Tuesday night, just his fourth rehab game with the RailRiders.
“It’s just like any other day,” Judge said. “I got one over the plate. Those guys got good stuff. They like to make it seem like it’s over the plate and nibble at the corners. I had to wait, take the pitches on the corners and swing at the ones in the strike zone.”
“It felt good to see some pitches. If I’m swinging at the right pitches, I feel that good things will happen. I was happy to add another run to the RailRiders. Man, they were on fire today.”
At first, one of the biggest hurdles Judge wanted to overcome he rehabs his way back to the majors was taking a full swing comfortably. He wanted to work on check swings, too.
The Yankees’ right fielder was able to do that successfully while with the RailRiders in Durham this past weekend, giving himself the confidence to move forward, mentally, in his rehab.
Now it’s about getting at-bats and seeing pitches, with his best one coming Tuesday night when he hit a solo shot off of Norfolk Tides starting pitcher Tyler Herb in the fifth inning. Judge also worked two walks, playing nine innings in right field.
“Two months off of watching from the dugout or watching on TV or watching video’s not the same as being in the box and getting a chance to see pitches,” Judge said. “That’s what I was trying to do in Durham – see pitches, get good swings off. I’m going to do the same thing here – see pitches, try to get good swings off and trying to get comfortable in the box.”
Aaron Judge bats second and is in right field for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre tonight. pic.twitter.com/t9wSGzF9lp
When Judge does return to the Yankees, he’ll join arguably the most potent lineup in all of baseball. And he’ll have a new teammate in Edwin Encarnacion, who the Yankees traded for on Sunday.
Playing with Encarnacion is an opportunity that Judge is eager to take advantage of.
“Any time you can add the (American League) leader in home runs to an already-potent lineup, it’s going to make a splash,” Judge said with a smile. “I know we’re all excited and going to welcome him with open arms. I can’t wait to get a chance to hit in that lineup with him.”
Before Judge can hit in the same lineup as Edwin Encarnacion and Giancarlo Stanton, who finished up a rehab stint with the RailRiders on Sunday, he has to go through his plan with the RailRiders.
After playing nine innings in right field Tuesday, Judge is expected to play nine innings in right again Wednesday night, followed by a final day as the designated hitter. However, RailRiders manager Jay Bell cautioned that weather could “dictate” those plans.
Rain is in the forecast each of the next three days in Moosic.
“We plan on playing him in the outfield nine innings and then the final day at DH. Of course weather could dictate something different, but for the most part that’s the plan,” Bell said. “The progression’s good. It works out really well for him. Hopefully, we can have a couple of good days here so he can get back and help the Yankees win a championship. That’s the objective.
“I think he’s moving around good. I think from a physical standpoint, watching him take batting practice and take ground balls and fly balls and that kind of stuff, he’s physically able and capable.”
Judge did admit after Tuesday’s game that he’s ready to join the Yankees now.
“I told (New York) I’m ready to go, but they told me to get two games in a row in the outfield,” he said. “I do whatever they tell me.”
After securing his second hit of his rehab stint with the RailRiders Tuesday night, Judge will look to take another step forward when he faces Norfolk right-hander Tom Eshelman on Wednesday.
“I’m 100 percent. Ready to go,” Judge said. “I wouldn’t be in games if I wasn’t 100 percent. Now it’s just about getting those reps in.”