TAMPA, Fla. -- A .422 on-base percentage that ranked second in the American League last season has drawn the attention of Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who is wondering: could Aaron Judge be their best option to lead off against left-handed pitching?Boone said that inspiration struck on the team bus Thursday
TAMPA, Fla. -- A .422 on-base percentage that ranked second in the American League last season has drawn the attention of Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who is wondering: could Aaron Judge be their best option to lead off against left-handed pitching?
Boone said that inspiration struck on the team bus Thursday evening, about halfway between Fort Myers, Fla., and George M. Steinbrenner Field. After buzzing Judge's cell phone and receiving the slugger's OK, Boone gave the new-look lineup a whirl during Friday's 5-0 Grapefruit League loss to the Red Sox.
"I'm putting together different combinations," Boone said. "If I want to do something like that during the regular season, if that's a real option, I at least want to introduce it. Obviously it's a story today, so I want to at least get that part out of the way. We'll evaluate it and see where we stand going into the season with something like that."
Judge said that he probably hit leadoff once for Linden (Calif.) High School, but has not done it professionally at any level. He struck out looking in his first at-bat on Friday before later singling as part of a 1-for-4 afternoon.
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"What do I think of a leadoff hitter? It's someone who gets on base," Judge said. "Starts the team. Gets things going. There's all different types of leadoff hitters."
Only Michael Trout of the Angels (.442) had a higher on-base percentage in the AL than Judge, who led the circuit in runs (128), homers (52), walks (127) and strikeouts (208). He ranked second in RBIs (114) and slugging percentage (.627) en route to being named the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year Award winner.
The lineup could be a preview of how Boone intends to set his order for the season opener in Toronto on Thursday, when the Yankees will face left-hander J.A. Happ. Behind Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius, Brandon Drury, Neil Walker and Brett Gardner rounded out the starting nine.
"You want to get on the board, knock that starter out and get into their bullpen," general manager Brian Cashman said. "That starts from the first at-bat on. I still remember back with Gene Michael, 20 or 30 years ago: 'Your best lineup is whatever gets your best hitters the most at-bats.' Whoever is going to get that fifth at-bat, just think of it that way and it's probably your best way."
In 2017, Judge started 62 games batting third and 30 games hitting fifth, with 28 starts in the two-hole and 12 in the six-hole. He batted cleanup nine times, hitting seventh on six occasions and eighth on four occasions.
"I've never really thought about it, to be honest," Judge said. "I've never hit leadoff, I've never put much thought into it about how it's changed and evolved. You've got a guy like [Astros outfielder] George Springer, who can give you 30, 35 home runs a year. You've got him at leadoff, it's pretty impressive."
Drury exited Friday's game in the fifth inning, one batter after being hit on the left elbow by a Christopher Johnson pitch. X-rays were negative, but Boone said that Drury took "a pretty good shot" and that the contusion swelled quickly. Drury received treatment after Friday's game.
Should Drury miss time on a short-term basis, Boone said that he believes the Yankees would not need to make a roster move, as they could be covered at third base between Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Wade and Walker.
The Yankees optioned right-hander Luis Cessa to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre prior to Friday's game, then released left-hander Wade LeBlanc at his request. There are 37 players remaining in camp.
With Boone planning to carry 13 pitchers to begin the season, Domingo German and Jonathan Holder are considered to be the leading contenders to break with the big league club. Boone has said that he plans to have all decisions made by the end of business on Saturday.
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The Yankees have announced that Yankee Stadium Gates 6 and 8, as well as the Suite Entrance, will open three hours prior to the scheduled start of every Friday night game, as well as all Saturday games scheduled to start at 4:05 p.m. ET or 7:15 p.m.
Prior to these games, the entire Field Level, Great Hall, Bleachers (including Pepsi Lounge), Legends Suites and Club, Champions Suites and Clubs, and Ford Field MVP Club will be accessible. All other Gates and the rest of the Stadium will open 1 1/2 hours prior to first pitch.
For 6:35 p.m. home games, all Yankee Stadium gates will open 1 1/2 hours prior to first pitch.
Prior to Friday's game, infielder Miguel Andujar was presented with the 2018 James P. Dawson Award, which is given annually to the outstanding Yankees rookie in Spring Training.
The 23-year-old Andujar hit .262 (11-for-42) with five runs, two doubles, a triple, four homers and 10 RBIs in 14 spring games. Rated as the Yankees' No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Andujar will begin the season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Yankees beat writers vote on the winner, and in conjunction with the award, Andujar received a watch from Betteridge Jewelers.
Up next: The Yankees have two split-squad games on Saturday. David Hale will start at 1:05 p.m. ET on Gameday Audio as the Yanks host the Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field, with Judge and Stanton expected to be in the lineup. In Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Luis Severino will make his final tuneup in advance of Opening Day, taking on the Braves at 1:05 ET on MLB.TV. He'll be working with Sanchez.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.