Aaron Judge

When Aaron Judge looks up at the scoreboard these days, he sees a .182 batting average with three homers and 11 RBIs in 19 games this season.PHOTO BY CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

Aaron Judge recently assessed the lingering effects of the right big toe injury he suffered last year. “I don’t think it will ever be back to normal,” the struggling New York Yankees slugger said, “but as a player you have to live with it.”

Judge ran into a right field gate at Dodger Stadium last June 3 while making a catch and tore a ligament. And considering his numbers since that crash, one has to wonder if and when he’ll return to his norm as a player.

The Yankees’ outfielder was hitting .291 with 19 homers and 40 RBIs before he was injured and subsequently missed 42 games. In the 86 games since his return, dating back to last season, those numbers have plummeted to .228 with 21 homers and 46 RBIs through Wednesday’s come-from-behind, 6-4, win over the Blue Jays in Toronto.

At end of that game, Judge had a respite of sorts with a ninth-inning, two-run single that won the game and snapped an 0-for-12—with seven strikeouts—drought in the three-game series leading up to that last at-bat.

Still, when Judge looks up at the scoreboard these days, he sees a .183 batting average with three homers and 11 RBIs in 19 games this season. His subpar performance has been somewhat overshadowed by New York’s 13-6 record and the hot start of newcomer Juan Soto.

“You can get caught up as a player looking at the scoreboard and seeing where your average is,” Judge said, in his soft and steady demeanor. “You see guys up there hitting .600 and you can get discouraged. It’s the early part of the season. You’re going to get 600 at bats. You go through some tough stretches. But those are minuscule as compared to the whole season. It’s about staying the course and just weathering it.”

This, of course, is not what the Yankees wanted or expected when they signed Judge in 2022, then a free agent, to a nine-year, $360 million contract—the largest in team history—and made him team captain, the first since Derek Jeter.

The often-injured Judge had just come off a 2022 season in which he broke Roger Maris’ team and American League record with 62 homers. That year he also led the league with 133 runs scored, 131 RBIs, a .425 on-base percentage, a .686 slugging percentage, a 1.111 OPS, a 210 OPS+ and 391 total bases. His .311 batting average left him just shy of the Triple Crown.

Judge was named the American League MVP, and the Yanks thought the sky was the limit, outbidding the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres in the free agent market for his services.

The biggest downside of 2022 for Judge was the Yankees getting swept by the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series. For all his regular season heroics, Judge was a dud that October, batting .139 (5-for-36) with two homers and three RBIs in nine postseason games, none in each category against the Astros.

In 2023 came the injury, and the Yankees finished 82-80, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

With the captaincy and the big money came a lot more responsibility for Judge, and he maintained a tight relationship with Yanks principal owner Hal Steinbrenner. The question for both men was simple: Is Judge going to be Don Mattingly, never winning a World Series in his time with the Yankees, or Jeter, who won five?

In the offseason, Judge and Steinbrenner often met. On Judge’s recommendation, Steinbrenner kept Aaron Boone as manager. It was Steinbrenner’s decision to retain Brian Cashman as general manager. It took until November for those decisions to be implemented. Cashman then engineered the deal with the Padres to obtain Soto, who has helped recast the team.

Judge says he likes what he sees so far this season.

“I’m excited about the results we’re getting,” he said. “The most important thing is that you win with people. If you get the right people in the room, if you get the right people in their positions, ultimately it’s going to turn into better results. Right now, we’re getting the results.”

Now, he’d just like to start playing like he knows and hopes he should. Against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 3 at Chase Field in Phoenix, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo opted to pitch to Judge in the 11th inning rather than walk him intentionally with first base open. Judge doubled to win the game. Earlier he had hit his first homer of the season and that day amassed four RBIs.

Lovullo later second-guessed himself for pitching to Judge.

“I’m hitting .100 right now, so I think it was the right choice to pitch to me,” Judge said at the time. “I haven’t been swinging the way we want to.”

He still isn’t. He’s had two homers and seven more RBIs in the weeks since.

Boone said the slump won’t last forever.

“He’s going to come out of it, because he’s great,” Boone said. “It’s just a matter of time.”


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