Yankees happy to take advantage of Judge’s meteoric rise

Ezequiel Carrera and Kendrys Morales hit home runs but it wasn’t nearly close to enough as the New York Yankees pounded the Toronto Blue Jays.

TORONTO — Aaron Judge has his own section at Yankee Stadium already, for goodness sakes. So why wouldn’t Joe Girardi be on solid ground moving Judge up in the batting order?

Twenty-five years to the day the New York Yankees drafted Derek Jeter, one of the future Hall of Fame shortstop’s former teammates — and the last manager he had — gave a vote of confidence to another young, prodigiously talented player with an uncommon sense of the moment, in the finest Yankees tradition.

Judge isn’t in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium yet, but he has written his name large all over the 2017 season. Plus, he has put his name on the stadium itself. Or, at least part of it.

And Thursday, for the first time in a career that is not yet 81 games old, his name was written into the No. 3 spot on Girardi’s lineup card. Some vote of confidence, eh? Or at least a sign of progress; a further signal that, in Girardi’s words, “he continues to clear hurdles.”

“Maybe,” Judge responded. “I mean, I guess. Considering I was hitting ninth in the first game of spring this year, you know? I don’t know. I’m just trying to do my job out there. It doesn’t matter where I hit. (Girardi) told me before the game: ‘Hey, heads up, I have you hitting third. Just so you know.’

“I don’t think anything of it,” Judge said when asked about the change. “My job doesn’t change; touch first and touch home and if there’s anybody on base drive them in. Same thing I was trying to do in the five spot.”

Judge had just one of the Yankees’ 15 hits in their 12-2 shelling of the Toronto Blue Jays Thursday, a run-scoring single to left. He was driven home when Gary Sanchez, who was second in American League Rookie of the Year voting last season after hitting 20 home runs in 53 games, clubbed his first of two home runs. Sanchez hit in the No. 2 hole in front of Judge, a reversal of where the two hit as minor-league teammates.

“Judge’s Chambers” is a three-row, 18-seat section in right field at Yankee Stadium – it has fancy fake wood panelling too – that the club put in earlier this season while Judge was in the process of becoming the youngest player in MLB history and the only rookie to hit at least 13 homers in his team’s first 26 games. The 25-year-old man-child – he’s 6-foot-7, 282 pounds – is hitting .326 with 17 homers and 38 runs batted in. And he’s already mastered one of Jeter’s tricks: he’s unfailingly polite, ending interviews with “thanks, guys,” makes eye contact, makes you feel as comfortable as possible in a room full of professional athletes in various states of undress, and says just enough to be quotable without giving away state secrets.

In this city, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a gilt-edged young player in Auston Matthews whose off-ice appearances and opportunities are carefully regulated by the team – including matters such as between-period interviews – in keeping with the faceless/nameless preferences of general manager Lou Lamoriello. Everyone in the NHL knows that Matthews is one of the game’s transcendent personalities in the league’s most important market. Everyone knows he will some day be captain of the team. But not in his rookie season, and according to a recent report citing Lamoriello, probably not in 2017-18 either. Lamoriello can be heard doing a commercial spot for a local car dealer; Matthews can’t.

Yet here are the Yankees, the one North American team with no names on the back of their jerseys, baseball’s version of the Leafs (except with championships) and they’re fine with Judge having a section of seats in right field named after him despite the fact he is five games away from playing half a major-league season.

It was an interesting commitment and radical departure for the organization – as a sidenote, Yankees GM Brian Cashman is a long-time friend of Lamoriello’s and he and his family have attended Leafs games in Lamoriello’s company – and has set some kind of precedent. Remember, the people who make it their business to rank prospects still believe that outfielder Clint Frazier and infielder Gleyber Torres might actually be better players in the long run than Judge.

Judge has made 27 starts batting fifth, four batting eighth, nine sixth, six seventh, and one as the Yankees’ cleanup hitter. In 2016, he batted eighth in 14 of his 28 starts, and he’d hit fifth in 22 of his last 24 starts.

“We’ve just kind of moved him up slowly,” Girardi said before Thursday’s game. “I think he started seventh as the year began and he hit well. We moved him up to fifth and he’s done well.

“You look at his numbers and they’re some of the best numbers on the team. We just felt it was time to move him again. With those two guys at the top of the order … we think it makes us really dangerous in the first inning. They’re two guys who are capable of having good at-bats, they get on base, and they can both hit the ball out of the park. Pretty good combination.”

I’ll say.

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