Substitution Takes Focus Away From Another Aaron Judge Homer; Is the Yankees' Star Hurt?

Max Goodman

NEW YORK — At first glance, it was a bit of a head-scratcher when Mike Tauchman pinch-hit for Aaron Judge in the sixth inning on Tuesday night. Then confusion quickly transitioned to concern.

Why would Judge be coming out of a game early when the Yankees only had a five-run lead? Not to mention the fact that the slugger was one inning removed from crushing his MLB-leading ninth home run of the season. Was he hurt?

After the game, New York's manager Aaron Boone quickly eased the minds of worrisome Yankees fans.

"Coming off of four days on the turf, just with a little bit of leverage there just trying to be smart with these guys where Judge really hasn't had that day down," Boone said. "I gave him the DH day and I just want to make sure we're being smart with everyone."

New York's 9-6 win against the Braves on Tuesday directly followed an off day. Before that, however, the Bombers had played seven games in five days including a pair of doubleheaders. That tough stretch on the road concluded with a four-game set in Tampa Bay against the Rays.

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Judge would remain on the bench as Tauchman reached on a two-out walk, clapping as his fellow outfielder worked the count. The following inning however, Judge rose up from his spot on the dugout railing, strolled past the rest of his teammates and disappeared down the steps into the clubhouse.

Asked why Judge didn't stick around for the rest of the game, Boone said Judge was "getting his normal treatment."

Entering play on Tuesday, Judge was the only Yankee to have appeared in all 16 games this season. With injury concerns dating back to a fracture in his first right rib last fall that kept him off the field during Spring Training—along with a neck stiffness scare during Summer Camp—it makes sense that Boone would want to take it slow with his star that happens to have a history with injuries.

Then again, the skipper didn't specify the slugger's treatment. Was it related to those two aforementioned ailments, could it be something brand new that's been bothering him of late or is it nothing notable?

Considering his play between the lines in the Bombers' first 17 games, however, Judge has certainly seemed completely healthy. No. 99 isn't just leading all of baseball in home runs, but his 20 RBI and .758 slugging percentage are also tops in the game.

To designated hitter Mike Ford, Judge's success is well deserved.

"It's just fun to watch honestly. Couldn't happen to a better person," Ford said. "His start has been incredible, but he puts that work in and he works just as hard, if not harder, than everyone. So it's awesome to see."

His homer on Tuesday sizzled through the Bronx night, soaring 432 feet while leaving his bat at 113.1 mph, per Statcast.

First baseman Luke Voit also hit a long home run on Tuesday—extending New York's streak to 13 home game in a row in which the Yankees have hit at least one home run—but watching Judge do what he does best is also a treat.

"He rakes," Voit said. "Hit that ball 113 [mph], I'm surprised he didn't put a hole in that sign out in right center. Kid's a stud. It's fun, I'm glad he's finally healthy again and he gets to do what he does because there's a reason why he's one of the faces of baseball."

Judge joined Mickey Mantle, Graig Nettles and Alex Rodriguez as the only Yankees in franchise history to hit at least nine home runs across the first 17 games of a season. Plus, he's been virtually unstoppable in pinstripes, crushing five homers at Yankee Stadium through the first five home games of the campaign.

With 14 of the Yankees' next 19 contests coming in the friendly confines on East 161st Street, Judge is poised to continue to produce MVP-caliber numbers. That is, if he can stay healthy.

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees

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