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Called shot: Judge predicts HR mark for Yanks

Seven homers in split-squad action Sunday has New York thinking big
@BryanHoch
March 3, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees claimed their place as the most prolific homer-hitting squad in history last season, blasting 267 long balls and shattering a Major League record that had remained untouched for more than two decades. Aaron Judge believes that they are only getting started. "You get this whole

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees claimed their place as the most prolific homer-hitting squad in history last season, blasting 267 long balls and shattering a Major League record that had remained untouched for more than two decades. Aaron Judge believes that they are only getting started.

"You get this whole team healthy, we're going to crush the record that we set last year," Judge said after homering twice in Sunday's 7-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Tigers. "We have a good team, a lot of guys that can make a lot of solid contact. When they make contact, it goes. We're a team that's primed and ready to do that."

The Yankees slugged six homers off Detroit pitching in the contest at George M. Steinbrenner Field; in addition to Judge's pair, Brett Gardner went deep twice, Gary Sánchez cleared the fence with his first hit of the spring and non-roster invitee Isiah Gilliam hit a tape-measure shot to right field in the seventh.

Some 20 miles across Tampa Bay, Luke Voit also cracked his second spring homer, that one coming in the Yankees' 5-2 split-squad loss to the Blue Jays. With that power on board, Gardner is confident that the Bombers will have no issue eclipsing their home run total from last year, when they bested the previous mark established by the 1997 Mariners (264).

"We're going to hit more this year," Gardner said. "I just think that we're capable of being better than we were last year overall as an offense. Obviously some guys we missed last year; Judge was out for a little bit, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird. Collectively as a unit, I expect us to have a better offense and score more runs."

Three of the homers were hit off Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris, including both of Gardner's. Sanchez launched a drive down the left-field line facing Drew VerHagen in the third inning, and Judge received assistance with his two-run shot in the fifth, which was a smoked line drive that ricocheted out of the glove of right fielder Victor Reyes.

"That at-bat, I was really trying to just dunk a ball over the second baseman's head," Judge said. "I was able to get the barrel on it. It hit off the glove and [went] over the fence. I was trying to save those for the season, but I'll take them right now, I guess."

It has been a positive spring for Judge, who said that he has been able to work on his swing more steadily than last year, when he was recovering from left shoulder surgery. Having hit 27 homers in 112 regular-season games, Judge is aiming to exceed 50, as he did during his rookie season (52).

"I feel like he's had good at-bats from the get-go," manager Aaron Boone said. "His two-strike approach has been really good. Unlike anyone, he can sneeze one out of there to right. He's special, so I think coming in and having an offseason where he's just training and not rehabbing, he's in a good spot."

Judge said that Sunday's fireworks display should boost the entire team's confidence.

"It's a really good sign," Judge said. "Especially speaking of Gary, finally getting him healthy. I know he's still probably feeling some pain with that shoulder and he's going to have to fight through some stuff. It's the first couple of games back. For him to get a home run and have him take some pretty good swings in his first couple of games, that's a good sign for us."

The surge raised the decibel level in the Yankees' dugout, where Gardner offered trash talk to his teammates. Strutting after the first homer, Gardner said that he went up and down the bench, proclaiming to Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, "Anybody can hit 50!"

"He mouthed off after the first one," Judge said, flashing a grin. "All of a sudden he hit the second one and said, 'Hey, anybody can do it once or twice. Man, what you got?' I'll get him back during the season. I told him, 'Anybody can pull the ball. Try hitting it oppo.'"

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