Yankees’ bigger issues include Aaron Judge’s timing, Carlos Rodon’s soaring pitch count

TORONTO – The well-known Bronx “dawgs’’ haven’t barked much since winning twice Saturday at Cleveland, and suddenly you notice the Yankees captain is batting .182.

The way Aaron Judge sees it, this could be any random 18-game snapshot of a season.

“It’s baseball. You go through ups and downs like this every year,’’ Judge said after going 0-for-4, with two strikeouts, in Tuesday night’s 5-4 Blue Jays win at Rogers Centre, the Yanks’ third straight loss.

“Obviously, you don’t want to (personally) start out like that,’’ but Judge points to the team’s 12-6 record and the resolve to “show up tomorrow’’ and step back into the fight.

“Just like every year,’’ said Judge. “Still trying to improve, still trying to work.’’

A timing issue for Aaron Judge

Apr 15, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge wearing number 42 for Jackie Robinson Day gets an inside pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during the third inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Judge quickly dismissed any timing issues related to his spring training core issue, which caused him to miss nearly two weeks of exhibition games.

Lately, Judge feels that when he gets a pitch to drive, he’s just missing it.

The solution is to “take my walks when I don’t get anything and keep staying aggressive’’ on pitches in the zone, said Judge. “Especially with our lineup, you’ve got to keep swinging.’’

Despite another sharp performance by Yusei Kikuchi, the Yankees still had a shot in the ninth, scoring once against Jordan Romano before stranding the tying run at third base with two out.

Kikuchi exited with a 5-1 lead after six innings, following a scoreless 5.1 innings against the Yankees in their home opener.

“Kind of keeps you off balance,’’ Judge said of the lefty’s fastball-cutter-slider mix, with an occasional changeup. By “working the edges, (he) makes it pretty tough.’’

Carlos Rodon’s soaring pitch count

Apr 16, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees starting pitcher Carlos Rodon (55) pitches to the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Having already lost their first series of the season, the Yankees are trying to avoid a three-game sweep by the Blue Jays, who “made more plays than we did,’’ said manager Aaron Boone.

“In the end, we got outplayed.’’

Fueled by George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Justin Turner, the Blue Jays (10-8) drove up Carlos Rodon’s pitch count from the start.

“Death by the foul ball, ‘’ as Boone termed it, but Rodon needed 101 pitches to complete four innings, leaving with a 3-1 deficit and tipping his cap to Toronto’s lineup.

Rodon walked four batters Tuesday, a night after Yanks’ starter Luis Gil walked seven Blue Jays.

“Give them props, they had some really good at-bats. They made me work,’’ said Rodon, feeling he needs to be “more effective’’ with his secondary stuff (cutters, changeups) to go with his signature fastball-slider combo “so I can pitch deeper in the game.’’

Upon his return, would DJ LeMahieu replace Anthony Volpe at leadoff?

Feb 20, 2024; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu (26) prepares for an infield drill at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Leadoff hitter Anthony Volpe had his roughest night of the season, with four strikeouts in four at-bats.

Before the game, DJ LeMahieu (non-displaced fracture, right foot) acknowledged that he’s about to start a minor league rehab assignment this weekend, possibly beginning at Class AA Somerset.

LeMahieu figures he’ll need “probably less than five’’ rehab games to feel ready to rejoin the Yankees lineup.

That timeline is “possible,’’ said Boone. “We’ll see how the build-up goes.’’

If LeMahieu is ready to return by the April 26 series opener, would he return as the leadoff hitter, a role he was expected to fill before both his spring training injury and Volpe’s hot start?

“We’ll see. I mean, I’m probably not taking Anthony out of the leadoff spot,’’ Boone said of the sophomore shortstop, batting .349 in his first 16 games.

“The good things with DJ, I feel like he can fit a lot of different spots in the order,’’ said Boone, who’ll also have to displace third baseman Oswaldo Cabrera.

With a double and an RBI on Tuesday night, Cabrera is batting .294 with three homers and 12 RBI (second on the team behind Juan Soto) over his first 13 games.

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