BALTIMORE — Coming into the game, the New York Yankees sat just 1.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. Beginning a 10-game, four-city road trip, the Yankees have a tough road ahead. The Yankees were able to get off to a strong start against the Baltimore Orioles, winning a 4-1 matchup.
Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge had a 1-for-5 night, but his one hit was an important one. It came on a 2-2 count against Orioles pitcher Tanner Scott. Scott’s slider ran inside, right into Judge’s wheelhouse, leading to a home run to left field.
This isn’t very new for Judge, as he has hit pretty well against the Orioles. In 30 games against Baltimore, Judge has slashed .343/.496/.808, hitting 13 home runs and driving in 29 runs in 99 at-bats.
“It’s tough to say,” Judge said about his success hitting against the Orioles. “It’s a great ballpark [Camden Yards] to hit in. It’s a really good hitter’s park, especially left-center and right-center. I just try to keep it simple, especially when I come to parks like this, I don’t try to do too much. I just try to keep it simple, stick with my approach and make sure to barrel up something.”
He has also played in 12 games at Camden Yards, hitting .286/.434/.619, hitting four home runs and driving in eight runs in 42 at-bats. Judge is currently hitting .290/.419/.590 on the season, with 16 home runs and 41 RBI.
“No, I usually don’t try to look at that kind of stuff,” Judge said about being aware of his numbers at Camden Yards. “It starts getting in my head a little bit. So, I just try to take it one day at a time.”
To start a 10-game road trip with a win is important to a Yankees team that is now just a half of a game back of the division-leading Boston club. The Yankees have a doubleheader in Detroit on June 4, which is a makeup date for two postponed games (4/14 and 4/15). New York also has two games in Toronto against the Blue Jays June 5-6, an off day on June 7 and have begin the three-game Subway Series against the New York Mets on June 8-10.
“It’s always good,” Judge said of getting the first win of the away trip. “It’s always important getting the first one, especially here in Baltimore, with the good pitching staff they have and their offense – they can hit homers with the best of them. So, for us to come out here and get this first win and now it’s time to move on and get the next one.”
Another player who has been hitting well for the Yankees is catcher Austin Romine. In his three plate appearances against the Orioles on Friday, Romine drew a walk and hit safely twice. He caught for starting pitcher Sonny Gray, who went six innings, allowing just one run (one earned), on four hits, allowing one home run (to Manny Machado) and striking out six batters.
“He just stayed in a rhythm,” Romine said of Gray’s performance. “He has some athleticism to him out there – making pitches all over the place. He was going in and going out, he was convicted in all of his pitches. When Sonny’s convicted in his pitches, this happens. He was convicted in Kansas City – he’s throwing the ball really well.”
Though Gray allowed the one homer to Machado, his outing was otherwise impressive. Coming into the game against Baltimore, Gray had a 5.98 ERA. After Friday night’s game, Gray had a 5.50 ERA.
“I think one of the game’s better hitters got him [Gray] to right on a line drive and it carried out,” Romine said of Machado’s home run. “I mean how many home runs does he [Machado] have? Good hitters do good things. So, I think after that he [Gray] settled in and we made adjustments off of what we assumed was there in the game plan and we were able to adjust here and there evolve with the game.”
The Yankees and Red Sox are still jousting for first place in the division. However, Romine stressed that it is important to take things game-by-game.
“It is a little early and I’m sure those questions will come, but right now, we’re just trying to play it out,” said Romine. “We have the whole month of June – some doubleheaders throughout the month, so we’re just trying to grind it out and take it series-by-series. I know it’s kind of cliche, but game-by-game.
“We’ll worry about chasing them when it gets a little farther down the road, but we don’t want to be giving away games to anybody, especially in our division. So, we’re taking it day-by-day.”
Though Romine has seen sparse playing time for the most part this season, he has made the most of it, batting .375/.453/.625, hitting three home runs and driving in 16 runs in 64 plate appearances.
“It’s been awhile,” Romine said of how good he felt this season at the plate. “It feels good. I feel like I’m sticking with a new approach and it’s working. I know how they’re trying to pitch me and I’m just getting good pitches and I’m sticking to it. When I just stick to my game plan, good things happen.
“Just making sure I get a pitch to hit out over the plate – not swinging at pitchers pitches, not trying to hit their best pitch, trying to work counts, get ahead and trying to swing at fastballs out over the plate. There’s no mystery of what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to go up the middle the other way. If I get a mistake, I can hit it out, but my game plan is to hit the ball over the middle and go the other way.”
The 29-year old has been the backup for Gary Sanchez, who has struggled this season. Sanchez is currently hitting .211/.313/.485, having hit 12 home runs and drove in 35 RBI in 198 plate appearances. Romine has changed his swing mechanics during spring training and he has attributed his success during the season to it.
“I closed off in Spring,” Romine said of his batting stance. “It’s gradually creeped back a little bit – I’m still a little more closed off, but I think more along the lines of being as short as possible to the ball. My job – my playing time is not as regular. So, I gotta see if I can get to a spot where I can be more consistent and short to the ball. And I’m swinging at good pitches right now.”
Judge had challenged Romine to become a better hitter during spring training and so far, it seems to have worked for New York’s backup catcher.
“I love it,” Romine said of his teammate’s challenge. “It wasn’t negative. It wasn’t like ‘Oh you aren’t doing well, we expect you to do more.’ It was ‘We know you can hit more than that’ and it was positive. All of that stuff coming in has been positivity – they’re all behind all of us, they’re pushing all of us to be better and to better ourselves everyday. I’ve sold out for it and good things are happening.
“I mean, I’ve got a lot of positivity behind me in my hitting coaches, my manager, my assistant manager, my bench coach, all of them. It’s just a very positive environment.”
Romine is a career .234/.281/.342 hitter and is a 2007 second round selection in the MLB Amateur Draft. In 2017, he batted .218/.272/.293, hitting just two home runs and driving in 21 runs. He’s already exceeded his home run total from last year and is on pace to pass his amount of runs driven in. There’s always been high hopes for him and this year, things have began to turn around.
“I think about playing for two years in the big leagues and doing what I was doing, I knew what I needed to do to have more success and more consistency” Romine said of making the necessary changes to becoming a better hitter.
“That’s all I’ve ever been striving for. This is great, this is a good wave, you just keep riding that out. But trying to be more consistent was all that I was trying to do. Can I shorten my swing out? Can I close off a little bit – be more direct to the ball? I know that’s going to work.”
Other key contributors to Friday night’s performance for the Yankees were Gleyber Torres and Greg Bird. Torres had a single in the top of the third, driving in Neil Walker. Bird tripled to score Brett Gardner in the top of the fifth inning.
Torres is just a rookie, but he has had a hot start to his career. He is now batting .325/.380/.598, hitting nine home runs and driving in 27 runs in 17 at-bats. He leads all MLB rookies in batting average, RBI and is tied for the lead with his nine home runs. He is one of eight players in Yankees franchise history with at least 26 RBI through the first 33 games of his career.
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(Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports)