Aaron Judge took another round of batting practice Saturday, but again was only available in a non-hitting role off the bench. Still no date is set for the slugger to play in a simulated game.
After spending seven weeks out with a fractured wrist, Judge returned as a defensive replacement in the Yankees’ 11-0 victory against the Blue Jays on Friday night, and his return to the lineup appears inevitable.
This summer, Aaron Boone filled the hole in right field by using career infielder Neil Walker there on several occasions. When Judge returns, the manager will have five players — Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner and Andrew McCutchen — for four spots, including designated hitter.
Already, the Yankees manager is aware that deciding on a starting pitcher in a one-game playoff likely won’t be the only tough call he has to make that day.
“Another one of those we’ll put under good problems to have,” Boone said before Saturday’s game against Toronto. “There’s times this year where we were wondering who we were gonna play on certain days. [I’m] looking forward to those guys all being in the mix. Down the stretch, it’ll allow us to give a guy a day here and there and kind of rotate them to some degree with the DH as well.
“Hopefully we’ll be in a position to have to make a very difficult decision going into the playoffs, as far as who is the right group to put out there potentially in a one-game playoff, potentially in a playoff scenario where the lineup could look a little different each game depending on matchups, depending on how guys are playing, all that matters.”
It isn’t much of a problem until the postseason. The division title is out of reach. The one-game playoff is essentially set, aside from its location.
But in the likely matchup with Oakland, recent performance may not be able to help Boone in a decision between McCutchen or Gardner.
Though McCutchen went 3-for-3 with two walks in Friday night’s win, the former MVP entered the game hitting .106 (5-for-47) since being acquired from the Giants. Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee, is in the midst of his worst full-season in the majors, hitting a career-low .239 this season.
Gardner has spent the majority of his 11 years in left field, while McCutchen has played just one game in left in his decade in the majors. Though McCutchen was in right field again Saturday, Boone seems willing to put the former NL MVP in the unfamiliar spot in the team’s biggest game of the season.
“I do think Cutch can play left,” Boone said. “We’re trying to prep him as much as we can, and practice. I think he’s the kind of athlete that would allow him to do it.”
The matchups at the plate also favor the left-handed Gardner, with the Yankees almost certainly squaring off against a right-handed starter (Edwin Jackson, Mike Fiers or Trevor Cahill).
“As far as being too right-handed, you always strive for balance to some degree, and there are certain matchups that you’re gonna go up against where a team is set up that is potentially tough on righties, but we also have a roster full of good left-handed hitters as well that comes into play in certain matchups,” Boone said. “That all goes into the thinking on a given day, with the pitchers we’re facing.
“Tough decisions are part of it. We’re not at that point yet. Hopefully we’re in a position because of health, that we’re healthy, that we will have to make a difficult decision. I’m not sure what that is right now. We’ll see as the final couple weeks unfold.”