Yankees Thoughts: Aaron Judge, Offense Arrive in Anaheim

The Yankees’ offense finally broke out in Anaheim in the series finale, and a five-run seventh inning on Thursday led to an 8-3 win.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Last July, Carlos Rodon made his third start as a Yankee against the Angels in Anaheim, and it was a disaster. Five days after getting beat up by the eventual 103-loss Rockies, Rodon got beat up by the Mike Trout-less Angels: 4.1 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, 2 HR.

Rodon walked off the mound after recording just one out in the fifth inning and responded to heckling fans behind the Yankees dugout by blowing them a kiss.

“A fan was angry as they should be,” Rodon said after that game. “I was just angry at myself and blew a kiss, unfortunately.”

In the least surprising moment of all time, his manager protected him by saying at least he didn’t do anything worse than blow a kiss. (That got me thinking about Jorge Lopez’s wild Wednesday for the Mets, and how Aaron Boone would undoubtedly have defended and supported Lopez’s on-field and postgame reactions if he were a Yankee.)

2. Rodon has been solid for the Yankees in his second season of his $162 million deal. Not as good as he should be for someone who signed a $162 million deal and makes more than $800,000 per start, but solid. He pitched much better in his second Yankees start against the Mike Trout-less Angels on Thursday (6 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR), didn’t blow any kisses to the crowd and the Yankees won 8-3.

3. Rodon put the Yankees in an early hole when he gave up a solo home run to Logan O’Hoppe in the second inning. The Yankees were held hitless through 3 1/3 innings by Patrick Sandoval (as I warned on Thursday, Sandoval hasn’t been good this year, but he has pitched decently well in three career starts against the Yankees), but that slump came to an end when Aaron Judge blasted his 18th home run of the season in the fourth inning with Juan Soto on first base to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

“He’s just a special player doing special things,” Boone said of Judge’s historic May. “I kind of felt like we needed a shot of energy. Judgie’s homer got the boys going a little bit.”

4. A few innings later, Sandoval finally came out of the game (6 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 HR), Adam Cimber came in and the Yankees opened the floodgates. Alex Verdugo walked to lead off the seventh and DJ LeMahieu singled, but Gleyber Torres took a lazy, halfhearted swing on the first pitch of his at-bat and popped it up. Jose Trevino walked to load the bases and Oswaldo Cabrera drew a bases-loaded walk to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. Anthony Volpe followed with a second straight bases-loaded walk to increase the lead to 4-1 and Ron Washington finally removed Cimber from the game. (No idea what Washington was waiting for?) Jose Suarez came in in relief and Juan Soto greeted him by hitting a first-pitch, 89-mph cutter down the right-field line for a bases-clearing, three-run triple to give the Yankees a 7-1 lead.

5. A six-run lead with nine outs to get seemed like the remaining three innings would be a formality, but the combination of Rodon, Boone and the Yankees bullpen made sure it wasn’t.

Rodon opened the seventh by going walk, single, double. The Angels trailed 7-2 and had runners on second and third and no outs. Boone went to Ian Hamilton and he struck out O’Hoppe and Jo Adell before walking Zach Neto load the bases. The Angels sent ex-Yankee Willie Calhoun to the plate as a pinch hitter, so Boone countered by going to the bullpen for Caleb Ferguson for a lefty-on-lefty matchup. Of course, Ferguson fell behind Calhoun 3-1 and allowed a run-scoring single on a line drive to left. The Yankees’ lead had been cut to 7-3 and the Angels had the tying run at the plate in Karen Paris. Fortunately, Ferguson’s lack of command and overall sucking ended with Calhoun and he retired Paris to end the inning and the threat. The Yankees added another run in the eighth in the eventual 8-3 win.

6. The historic streak of having a starting pitcher pitch at least five innings and allow no more than two runs came to an end though I think everyone always thought it would come to an end in a Rodon start.

“Now it’s time to start another streak,” Judge said of the rotation. “They’re the best in the game right now. The news about Clarke [Schmidt] definitely hurts, but I know guys will definitely pick up the slack and keep it rolling.”

7. The news about Schmidt being down for at least the next two months with a lat strain does hurt. Just yesterday in writing about who would come out of the rotation when Gerrit Cole returns, I wrote:

Usually these things have a way of taking care of themselves (injuries, lack of production, etc.) and Cole isn’t coming back any time soon, and maybe by the time he does, the Yankees will be in dire need of rotation help (knock on all of the wood).

Now no one needs to come out of the rotation, and you just hope no one else goes down. The Yankees’ pitching has been healthier than any other staff and better than any other staff this season, so something like this was bound to happen.

“It stinks for him,” Boone said of Schmidt. “But hopefully we’ll have hm down and get him on the mend, and hopefully get him back at some point.”

8. Anthony Rizzo was finally given the night off with LeMahieu moving over from third base to first base. LeMahieu went 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs. At third base, Cabrera went hitless but drew that all-important, bases-loaded walk in the seventh to extend the Yankees’ lead at the time from one run to two. The offense had its best night in nearly a week and the infield defense was flawless without Rizzo in the lineup. Coincidence? No.

9. The Yankees avoided being the first team to lose a series to the Angels in Anaheim this season and have their bullpen in very good shape for the next series. Over the last six days entering Friday night’s game, Clay Holmes will have thrown just 22 pitches and Luke Weaver just 26, and Tommy Kahnle has thrown just 17 over the last nine days. Those three are the only relievers you have to worry about being available. Anyone else who comes out of the bullpen is going to be an adventure (and likely a disastrous one) no matter how rested they are.

10. Now it’s off to San Francisco where the Yankees will finish this 10-day, nine-game West Coast road trip with three games against the one-game-over-.500 Giants. Unfortunately, the Yankees are getting the worst part of the Giants’ rotation to face with Jordan Hicks on Friday, Logan Webb on Saturday and Blake Snell on Sunday. For as weak as the Giants’ offense is, I expect these games to go similarly to how the Angels and Padres series played out, which means a couple of more late-night close games.

“It’s been a good month with a lot of wins, so I’m happy about that,” Judge said. “We’ll keep it rolling in June.”

I like the sound of that.