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In the Cage and at the Plate, Aaron Judge Is Still Trying to Figure It Out

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“Think how little time they have to make up their mind,” Girardi said of the umpires. “I’m not faulting them. I imagine I would be the same way if I was an umpire. In your mind it’s a strike, and the body type might be a little different, and it really isn’t a strike.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Judge ranked third among all major leaguers during the season when it came to getting the most low strikes “framed against” — pitches called strikes by the umpires that tickled the bottom of the strike zone or actually fell below the knees. Only Matt Carpenter and Cameron Maybin endured more such indignities.

Photo

Reggie Jackson before Game 3 at Yankee Stadium on Monday night. During the pregame batting practice, Jackson kept tabs on Aaron Judge.

Credit
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

You wouldn’t know any of this watching Judge operate in the pregame batting cage, where he still produces a remarkable power display. After a couple of pro forma bunts on Monday to start things off, Judge slammed four of the next five pitches from Danilo Valiente over various walls and into the netting over Monument Park. The pitches from Valiente were not low and they were not spinning downward. They were, instead, similar to the ones Valiente threw to Judge during the young star’s Home Run Derby victory at the All-Star Game in July.

Judge wasn’t learning much from these fat cookies. But there are other ways for Judge to adjust, to learn. Between stints in the batting cage, he conferred on his stride with his veteran teammate Matt Holliday, stepping into imaginary pitches and swinging his hips.

“There are drills,” Girardi said. “They have drills for everything.”

Jackson thought it wasn’t the swing or the stride that was sabotaging Judge so much as it was sheer lack of experience against this type of superior pitching.

“Players like Judge and Gary Sanchez, they don’t even have a thousand at-bats under their belt,” Jackson said. “When I got to this stage, I’d already had a lot more. I was ready.”

By the time he appeared in his first American League Championship Series in 1971 for the Oakland A’s at 25 years old, Jackson had 2,213 regular-season at-bats. He proceeded to hit .333 with two homers in a losing cause against the Baltimore Orioles, facing the starting trio of Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Jim Palmer.

Judge, 25, also has faced some of the best pitchers in the American League during this postseason — including the virtually unhittable Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander in Games 1 and 2 of the A.L.C.S.

“Going against these guys, the mechanics look all wrong right now,’’ Jackson said. “You can look awful. But that can change in a hurry.”

Judge may simply turn out to be a mistake-pitch hitter. The list of pitchers who have given up homers to Judge over his career is not as impressive as the list yielding homers to his teammate, Gary Sanchez, who has four against David Price. Or perhaps, as Jackson suggested, Judge just may need several hundred more looks before he can make the necessary adjustments.

“This is how you learn,” Jackson said. “You look bad, but can you fix it?”

On Monday, Judge took aim at another chest-high pitch from Valiente, drove another line drive into the bleachers. A host of fans scrambled for the souvenir, fully believing this baseball was struck by a future Hall of Famer who will one day handle pitches tailing low and away.

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