If Opening Day was any indication, Yankees' slugger Giancarlo Stanton is due for a monster year.
Out of the Bombers' cleanup spot on Thursday night, Stanton drove in three of the Yankees' four runs in the club's rain-shortened 4-1 victory over the Washington Nationals.
A familiar foe for Nationals' ace Max Scherzer, dating back to the slugger's days with the Miami Marlins, Stanton clobbered a two-run home run in his first at-bat of the season. The tape-measure shot in the top of the first inning — landing near the top of the bleachers in left-center field at Nationals Park — flew 459 feet and gave New York a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"It's good to get a beat on his fastball," Stanton said. "It was a fastball in and it's good to be on time for that. I just got a good beat on it."
Yankees' right fielder Aaron Judge had a front-row seat for Stanton's 112-mph blast, watching from second base after his sharp base hit earlier in the inning — the first base knock of the 2020 MLB regular season.
"That was huge for us," Judge said on the fellow slugger's long ball. "It set the tone for the whole game."
With both Judge and Stanton kick-starting the Yankees' high-octane offense, manager Aaron Boone said Thursday's first inning went "about as good as you can draw it up."
"That's a huge shot in the arm when you're facing another team's ace and you got your ace on the mound," Boone said. "So great tone-setter for us in that first inning by G."
Later, in the fifth, Stanton stepped up to the plate again with an opportunity to do more damage. With the bases loaded and two outs, Stanton took a fastball from Scherzer on the outside corner and sliced it to the opposite field for a single and his third run batted in.
Boone placed an emphasis on Stanton's approach at the plate Thursday evening, exemplifying the hard work the slugger has put in dating back to last season to continue to improve. After what will go down as a disappointing first two years in a Yankees uniform — considering his ceiling after winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in his final season before being traded to the Bronx — Thursday night showed what Stanton is capable of when he's healthy and on his game.
"I have a lot of belief and a lot of confidence in his work, his prep, and now his process, and I thought he had a great game plan going into tonight's game," Boone said. "That was the result of being convicted in a game plan."
Stanton played in just 18 games last season, missing virtually the entire year with a right knee injury. This spring, a Grade 1 right calf strain was poised to sideline the slugger for the Yankees' opener in late-March.
Courtesy of MLB's coronavirus-induced hiatus — as was the case for Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and James Paxton — Stanton was able to completely recover from his injury for Opening Day.
"Giancarlo got his swing off, and then backed it up again going the other way later," Cole said on the much-appreciated early run support. "The lineup was talking through the entire game, communicating about you know what they were seeing and how they were going to approach and it was fun to be around."
Stanton's Opening Day performance also confirms his dominance at Yankees' Summer Camp was far from a fluke. The 30-year-old hit the ball hard throughout the entirety of New York's training camp at Yankee Stadium, culminating his prep for the opener with a 448-foot bomb in the Yankees' penultimate exhibition game on Sunday night.
Stanton has received MVP votes every season in which he's played 123 games or more over his decade at the big-league level. In a shortened 60-game season, that durability won't be required. If the slugger can stay healthy over the course of this summer's sprint amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, however, Yankees fans could be watching a contender for the American League Most Valuable Player and AL Comeback Player of the Year.
"Ultimately if you can control the strike zone and you have the kind of power that he possesses, that can be a deadly combination," Boone said.
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