TORONTO -- You will never hear Aaron Judge claim Opening Day is just another game on the calendar. For evidence, the Yankees slugger can recall the quivering back leg he experienced at home plate during last year's season-opening at-bat of what would become a remarkable rookie season.As Judge dug his
TORONTO -- You will never hear Aaron Judge claim Opening Day is just another game on the calendar. For evidence, the Yankees slugger can recall the quivering back leg he experienced at home plate during last year's season-opening at-bat of what would become a remarkable rookie season.
As Judge dug his spikes into the dirt and focused on the Rays' Chris Archer, he could sense his right leg coursing with adrenaline, hoping that it was not perceptible to his teammates or on television. Judge's sensations may be much the same in the first inning on Thursday against the Blue Jays.
"The nerves were flowing a little bit," Judge said. "That's good. You need those. I love what I do. To get a chance to be out there and be with the guys, I'm looking forward to tomorrow. … I'm still nervous. I'm nervous right now. That's just part of being an athlete. I think it's more excitement, to be honest, not really nervous. Just excited for things to get going."
Batting second and playing right field, Judge will take his first hacks after setting a high bar last season, setting a Major League record with 52 home runs in his rookie campaign while slashing .284/.422/.627. Judge paced the American League in runs (128), homers and walks (127), while also leading the Majors in strikeouts (208).
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Prior to a workout on the turf at Rogers Centre, Judge summed up his mindset by saying, "Last year is over. You can't take it with you." That is an approach that new teammate Giancarlo Stanton would applaud. After spending a spring by Judge's side, Stanton's advice is that the young slugger should not try to live up to the back of his baseball card.
"Don't try to compare numbers or compare where you were at this point last year to this," Stanton said. "Just build off [last season], trust yourself and trust your preparation. You know you're going to do well. You set yourself up to do well, not worrying about those side expectations or sophomore slump or whatever you want to call it. That only exists if you put it in your mind."
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Last season was widely perceived as a rebuilding year for the Yankees, who finished one win shy of the World Series and added Stanton, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner, in the offseason. Judge said that he has no issue with the increased expectations. One of manager Aaron Boone's central themes has been to embrace those lofty goals.
"It's a great mindset to have," Judge said. "It's something he has been drilling into us: 'Expect to be great.' The biggest thing is we've just got to go out there and take care of our job. Do your job, that's the biggest thing. We've got all 25 guys just doing their job, we'll be in good position to be where we want to be."
Seven days ago, first baseman Tyler Austin was told that the Yankees had optioned him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, though he would be permitted to remain in big league camp for the remainder of the spring.
That was before Greg Bird was sidelined with a right ankle injury that will keep the him out of action for at least six to eight weeks. It was not how Austin envisioned making his first Opening Day roster, but he hopes to make the most of the opportunity.
"Obviously, when I got sent down it was disappointing, but I took the mindset of, 'I've got to go play,'" Austin said. "There's no other decision that I had than to just play and have fun. I'm thankful I got to spend the rest of camp with the team. That was great. I'm excited to be here."
In Bird's absence, the Yankees will employ a platoon of Austin and Neil Walker at first base. Austin said that he believes his defense has improved markedly over the last calendar year.
"I think it's night and day," Austin said. "I've said this whole time: I've worked extremely hard to continue and get better every day over there. I feel like I've made a lot of strides over there."
Win or lose on Thursday, Boone will officially be logged into the managerial record book. The first-year skipper said he has not had time to ponder his journey from the broadcast booth to the Yankees dugout, though it is a transition that he has enjoyed, however improbable it might have seemed last season.
"I get reminded about it a lot, even friends and people close to me, trying to tell me that I'm the manager of the New York Yankees," Boone said. "The job is so consuming, there's so much to do each and every day to get prepared. I think that's why, as I sit here today, I feel like I'm relaxed and in a good place.
"I feel like the work we've done in Spring Training, the plan we've put in place for this series, that's as far ahead as I look. I haven't done a lot of reflecting on it. There's too much stuff to do that, frankly, is a lot of fun."
He said it: "I think [Thursday] is going to be the same atmosphere as those playoff games. I will take what I did in the spring and bring it into tomorrow -- not trying to do too much, take it a pitch at a time and try to hit the glove every time." -- Opening Day starter Luis Severino
The Yankees received right-hander Jose Mesa Jr. back from the Orioles, who took him in the Rule 5 Draft, and assigned him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com.