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Judge hits 5th HR; Gardy's grab dazzles

@BryanHoch
March 15, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. -- Aaron Judge continues to look like a player who is killing time until the lights come on. The slugger connected for his fifth spring homer and stroked a double in the Yankees' 14-1 Grapefruit League drubbing of the Red Sox on Friday afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner

TAMPA, Fla. -- Aaron Judge continues to look like a player who is killing time until the lights come on. The slugger connected for his fifth spring homer and stroked a double in the Yankees' 14-1 Grapefruit League drubbing of the Red Sox on Friday afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The home run, a three-run shot off right-hander Adam Lau, served as further affirmation that Judge's revamped two-strike approach is working. Judge has been attempting to reduce his leg kick and stride in order to trim his strikeout totals. His blast off Lau came on an 0-2 pitch.

"Getting results like that are always good, but I'm looking more at the quality of at-bats," Judge said. "You never know; I could get jammed on three pitches and get three hits. They could be terrible swings, or I can take three solid swings and have nothing to show for it."

Judge is 9-for-28 (.321) with four doubles and 11 RBIs in 11 spring games, working four walks against eight strikeouts. He said he has been focusing on the process of each at-bat, believing that if he is swinging at the correct pitches and letting the others go, it will pay dividends during the regular season.

"If I don't finish my move and get to the right hitting position, I kind of rush and swing at bad pitches," Judge said. "For me, once I see that work and how I can go in the cage and work at it, it translates into the next day."

The Yankees will not see the Red Sox again until April 16, when the American League East rivals are scheduled to play a two-game series at Yankee Stadium. Judge knows his club faces a season-long battle against the defending World Series champions.

"With the top of the lineup they have, they're going to be a force again this year," Judge said. "They're still on top. Our main goal is to go back there and win the division. We haven't done that in the past couple of years, so we've added quite a few arms, a couple of good position players. We'll see how it turns out this year, but our goal is still the same. We obviously want to bring a championship back; we've got to win our division first."

Gift of grab
Brett Gardner thrilled the Yankees with a highlight-reel defensive play in the first inning on Friday, leaping against the wall in center field to steal a hit from Boston’s Steve Pearce.

"That was great," Judge said. "That fired me up, man. He's a hell of an outfielder. You can put him anywhere: left, center, right. He'll get the job done. He's had quite a spring this year."

First impressions
Whether Greg Bird or Luke Voit serves as the Opening Day first baseman -- and they could potentially carry both on the roster in the event of a lingering Aaron Hicks injury -- general manager Brian Cashman believes the Yankees' first base numbers are due for a significant upgrade.

"I'm glad they're both healthy and they look like either one could impact us in a positive way," Cashman said. "We're looking for a big bounce-back at that position. Until Voit got to us in August and September, we haven't had the production from the position you would expect. Our rankings from overall production on a yearly basis the last few years has been well below average. In 2019, that needs to change."

Even with Voit's surge, the Yankees' .762 OPS ranked 15th among the 30 Major League clubs last year, and their .761 OPS in 2017 was 24th. New York ranked dead last in 2016 (.673 OPS), one year after cracking the top five with an .852 OPS largely attributable to Mark Teixeira's final All-Star season.

"As long as there is health there, between either one of them -- and with DJ LeMahieu in the mix as well -- I think that should change," Cashman said. "It's just exciting that they're both healthy. We'll have a tough choice, and we want them to make it a tough choice for us."

August and everything after
One of Cashman's common in-season refrains has been that he must tinker with the roster until Aug. 31, which marked the last date that players could be traded after passing through waivers and still be eligible for the postseason. That is no more, with Major League Baseball announcing this week that players may not be traded after the July 31 Trade Deadline.

"It's going to force decisions earlier. We'll just adjust," Cashman said. "There will be a new world order. [The change] will be forcing more deals and then playing with the deck that you're dealt moving forward. You're going to be relying on your system that much more."

Cashman reiterated that although he is open to opportunities on the free-agent market, the Yankees like what they have coming through the farm system, particularly with pitchers Luis Cessa, Domingo Germán and Jonathan Loaisiga all contending for spots on the Opening Day roster. Germán hurled four scoreless innings against Boston on Friday and has a 1.54 ERA in 11 2/3 spring innings, with 18 strikeouts.

"He's in a way better place with repeating his delivery," manager Aaron Boone said of Germán. "If he does that, the stuff leaps off the screen with him. We saw it at times last year. He can really dominate when he's commanding the ball."

Bombers bits
• Right-hander Michael King has resumed a throwing program after being shut down for three weeks due to a stress reaction in his pitching elbow. King is rated as the Yankees' No. 12 prospect by MLB Pipeline.

• Left-hander Stephen Tarpley continues to impress, striking out three over two perfect innings on Friday to run his spring streak to 8 2/3 scoreless frames. Boone said Tarpley's stuff is "really playing" and has been "electric" in his last three appearances.

Up next
The Yankees will host the Blue Jays in a 1:05 p.m. ET contest on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Left-hander J.A. Happ will make his fourth spring appearance (third start), opposing his former club. Left-hander Thomas Pannone starts for Toronto. The game will be broadcast on YES, MLB.TV and WFAN.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.