NEW YORK — Four hours before first pitch on Friday, Aaron Hicks was the only player on the field at Yankee Stadium. The sound of his bat thwacking pitches from the high-velocity machine echoed across the empty seats in the Bronx.
With his struggles this season and the emergence of other outfielders in pinstripes, Hicks has seen his name plummet on New York's depth chart, leading to minimal opportunities.
It's gotten to the point where Hicks is playing once every few days. And when he's out there, failing to produce, he's been booed and even benched.
Still, Hicks continues to put his work in, preparing himself for when his number is called. Making his first start in four games on Friday night, it paid off, leading to a personal milestone and a Yankees victory.
Hicks homered in his first at-bat against Red Sox left-hander Rich Hill, just a few innings after a sellout crowd booed when they heard Hicks' name in starting lineup introductions. The home run was Hicks' 100th of his career, a 405-foot homer to left field that left his bat at 103.9 mph.
The switch-hitting outfielder proceeded to bring another run home in his second at-bat of the night, cracking an RBI single through the left side during a three-run fifth inning.
"Liked him from the right side today against their lefty and he delivered," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after the 5-4 win. "Put a great swing on that first ball, staying back on the off-speed pitch and really sticking it and then a big hit there so excited for him to really be right in the middle of a victory."
Hicks was out before pregame workouts getting some extra reps in, but his preparation extended to the video room as well. The outfielder revealed after the game that he was hunting Hill's slow curveball after noticing in film that the veteran southpaw has used it against him effectively in the past.
Hill threw a first-pitch curve and Hicks fouled it off in his first at-bat. After taking a ball, Hicks stayed back and waited for another curveball, pouncing on a hanger and doing damage.
One game doesn't wash away an extended stretch of poor play. Entering play on Friday, Hicks was hitting .147/.221/.206 (15-for-102) since July 28. For what it's worth, Hicks' numbers have improved significantly over his last few opportunities. It's a small sample, but the outfielder has now homered in back-to-back games, batting .467 (7-for-15) in his last four games played.
"It means a lot," Hicks said. "Especially when you're trying to go out there and help this team win. I'm out there competing but to go out there and do well today felt good."
With Harrison Bader back from the injured list patrolling center field and rookie Oswaldo Cabrera continuing to play well in the corner outfield spots, it's hard to see Hicks getting any playing time beyond the occasional spot start, especially heading into the postseason. That said, regardless of the boos and how the fan base feels about Hicks, there's an above-zero chance that he's on New York's postseason roster and coming into a game in a big spot.
Remember, key offensive contributors like DJ LeMahieu, Andrew Benintendi and Matt Carpenter aren't available right now due to injury. Benintendi and Carpenter won't return until the playoffs, if at all. At times, New York may need to turn to Hicks down the stretch.
Games like Friday night against Boston are confidence-builders that can go a long way for any player, especially one that's been in a funk for several months.
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