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Judge foils 4-man outfield with mammoth HR

Slugger leads Majors with six spring taters
@BryanHoch
March 16, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. -- Aaron Judge delivered the perfect response to the Blue Jays' experiment of a four-man outfield: hit the ball into the parking lot. Judge crushed his Major League-leading sixth home run of the spring in the first inning of the Yankees' 17-7 Grapefruit League victory over Toronto, a

TAMPA, Fla. -- Aaron Judge delivered the perfect response to the Blue Jays' experiment of a four-man outfield: hit the ball into the parking lot.

Judge crushed his Major League-leading sixth home run of the spring in the first inning of the Yankees' 17-7 Grapefruit League victory over Toronto, a titanic solo shot to left field off left-hander Thomas Pannone.

"Yeah, that works," Judge said, with a grin. "That's one way to beat it."

The slugger is swinging a red-hot bat as he awaits the opening of the regular season, having homered in back-to-back games and three of his last four.

Judge has been working on his two-strike approach extensively this spring, reducing his leg kick and stride in order to put the ball in play more often.

"I simplified things, because the big thing that guys get in trouble with -- especially with two strikes -- is timing," Judge said. "That’s what you see with pitchers nowadays; they're doing all their herky-jerky [movements], trying to mess up your timing. The minute your timing is off as a hitter, you're just going to have a bad swing.

"For me, taking the leg kick and stuff like that out of my swing, it allows me to simplify things to another level where I don't have to worry about the extra timing mechanism. You just have a slow little load and swing."

The approach appears to be working, though the same could not be said for Toronto's defensive concept. With Judge at the plate, the Blue Jays deployed third baseman Eric Sogard to play a true outfield position, though it didn't matter when Pannone's offering landed in the players' parking area at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

"I was thinking, 'He should hit it over their heads,' and he did," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "I was like, 'Wow. That one we haven't seen.'"

Judge said that he noticed that something looked different when he approached the batter's box, but he did not pay it much mind.

"I was just confused," Judge said. "I didn’t even know what was going on until after. Looking at the pitcher, I could just see two guys in my peripheral, standing in the gaps. I was like, I guess center field must be in the middle and those guys must be playing the gaps pretty tight. It was a little different to see."

Toronto also tried the quartet outfield twice against Greg Bird, who walked in both plate appearances. Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo deployed the alignment last week against the Phillies' Bryce Harper, and the Reds tried it against the Cubs' Kris Bryant in the Cactus League last week.

"The interesting thing will be when someone does drop a bunt on it," Boone said. "Birdie is capable of doing that. That'll be interesting to see, when that plays out. Judge, I want him to do his thing."

In the last two seasons, the Cubs and Astros have both used four-man outfields in regular-season games. Boone said that while that is not in the Yankees' playbook, they are considering using five infielders at times behind an extreme ground-ball pitcher like left-hander Zack Britton.

"Look, people are getting very creative with alignments," Boone said. "I think we're very aggressive and creative. With as much as you can track stuff now, I get it a little bit."

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