'I have to step it up': Judge bears burden of Yanks' offensive woes

July 4th, 2024

NEW YORK -- The Yankees’ Murderer’s Row has gone missing.

After Thursday's 8-4 loss to the Reds at Yankee Stadium, New York has a .221/.315/.383 slash line in its past 19 games dating back to June 13. That batting average ranks 26th in the Major Leagues during that span.

Even worse, in the Yankees’ 14 losses in that span, that slash line has dropped to .186/.282/.328. Their 14 losses since June 13 are the most in the Major Leagues since that date, one more than the Rockies, who played later, and the Cubs, who beat the Phillies.

Yankees captain put all the offensive problems on himself. He said he needs to be better at driving in runs early in the game.

“Offensively, we have to score first,” he said. “It’s been a lot of weight on our pitchers’ shoulders right now to be perfect. Offensively, we’ve got to put some pressure on [the opposing pitchers], get some guys on base. Maybe run a little bit. Drive some guys in when they are on base. Try to get the score in our favor early on. That way, we would have leverage throughout the game.

“Look at me. I’m hitting in the first inning. I have to do something to either get on base, drive a guy in. … I take a lot of responsibility for that. I have to step it up there in the first.”

Before Thursday’s game, manager Aaron Boone decided to change the lineup a little and move rookie first baseman Ben Rice to the leadoff spot and Anthony Volpe -- who is in a deep hitting slump -- down to sixth. There was good news and bad news. Rice, the No. 12 prospect in the organization according to MLB Pipeline, hit his first Major League home run off right-hander Frankie Montas, a solo shot over the right-field wall in the fifth. But New York’s lineup was quiet for the most part as the Reds swept the three-game series.

The loss couldn’t take away the excitement Rice felt for going yard.

“Finally got that first one out of the way. I was thrilled,” Rice said. “It’s not a surprise that I'm [still smiling]. I was elated, just super, super happy, and I tried to take it in as best as I could.”

For the most part, Montas silenced New York during the first four innings, allowing one hit. The Yankees scored their only two runs off Montas in the fifth inning, when Austin Wells and Rice hit solo homers.

“I counted like six 3-2 counts in the first four innings that [Montas] won,” Boone said. “I think Gleyber [Torres] had a walk [in the fourth inning]. The other five he got us out, made his pitch [it] seemed like in most of those cases.

“... I still feel like we are having some of the right at-bats and we are scoring some runs through this, but we have to cash in and take advantage of those leverage opportunities that we get sometimes, especially when you are going through [this current slide]. You have to score a little bit right now.”

Most of the Reds’ damage was done against Yankees right-hander Marcus Stroman. All five runs he allowed came on home runs. The biggest blow came in the fifth inning, when Spencer Steer hit a three-run homer.

“I have to be better at the end of the day,” Stroman said. “In that fifth, I was [two pitches] away from getting back into the dugout and keeping [the Reds] at two runs. … I didn’t do my job, so that one is on me.”

Cincinnati added to its lead when Jake Fraley hit a three-run triple off right-hander Jake Cousins in the seventh.

The Yankees scored their last two runs of the game in the seventh inning when Juan Soto hit a two-run homer off reliever Nick Martinez.

“We have to play better on all fronts,” Boone said. “It seems like we are playing catchup a lot. It’s a difficult way to play. Right now a lot of our mistakes are ending up in the seats. That obviously hurt us.

“But it’s on all of us. We understand that we have to play better, also with the realization that you are going to go through a tough stretch. But also understanding you need a kick in the butt and make sure we are coming in here with the right level of focus. Not saying we’re not. But we are just making sure we're locked and loaded and ready to go and compete our butts off.”