The judge began the severely delayed season with a pair of hits in the rain-cut Yankees 4-1 victory Thursday over the Nationals.
They were enough to impress one of his new teammates.
“It was two pure hits on the ball,” Gerrit Cole said of Judge’s work at home.
The right fielder was sidelined in March after being diagnosed with a fractured rib and collapsed lung which Judge likely suffered in a diving match last September.
General manager Brian Cashman said the rib injury would have kept Judge out until “summer.” When baseball returned following the COVID-19 shutdown prolonged by a labor dispute, the judge had a stiff neck.
But he came back to hit three home runs in two exhibition games and stayed warm Thursday against Washington’s Max Scherzer.
He ripped a 108 mph single on the left with an indent at the top of the first and scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s mammoth homerun later in the inning, which gave the Yankees and Cole a 2-0 lead.
“Overall it was a chance to see our attack when everyone is healthy,” Judge said. “I’m just trying to get on the base of the big hitters behind me. We showed it tonight. We let [Stanton] do his thing.
The judge returned to third place with an out after Tyler Wade’s first step and a strikeout by Aaron Hicks.
This time, the judge roped a brace on the left and the quick Wade – who started on second in place of DJ LeMahieu – came in to score to give the Yankees two points.
The judge had a chance to extend the Yankees’ lead again in the fifth with runners in the corners against Scherzer and an out, but he struck out. Stanton picked it up with an RBI single after Gleyber Torres walked in to load the bases.
The judge insisted during Spring Practice 2.0 that his neck was not an issue and said he was “ready to go” on Tuesday.
The judge was limited to 102 games a year ago in part due to left oblique strain and only played 112 games in 2018 due to a broken right wrist.
In this abridged season, a similar extended absence would be particularly damaging for Judge and the Yankees – and he’s proven why he’s so important to their roster again on Thursday.
Aaron Boone said he was happy with what he saw of both the judge and Stanton in the middle of the roster.
“One of the things that I felt really good about was this team was ready to go and these guys were leading the way, in a way,” Boone said of the two lazy ones. “They really had quality at-bats to back up the work we saw. The judge had a couple really good at bats.
But the judge also admitted that there was something strange about the frame.
“It was good to have real baseball, but it was really weird,” the judge said of the empty stadium. “It was strange with a team celebrating a World Series championship and none of their fans were there to celebrate with them.
In the end, however, it was OK.