Yankees Thoughts: Avenge Aaron Judge’s Hit By Pitch

The Yankees beat the Orioles 4-2 on Tuesday and avoided a potential disaster after Aaron Judge was hit by a pitch.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Nearly two weeks ago, while the Yankees were sweeping the season series from the Twins, all of the attention for Yankees fans turned to wondering why Juan Soto was removed from a game following a rain delay. It was later announced Soto had left with left forearm discomfort and would be sent for imaging and tests the following day. The next 18 hours were spent hoping and praying the tests would come back favorably for Soto and the Yankees. Without Soto, the 2024 Yankees would become the 2023 Yankees offensively. Thankfully, everything worked out and Soto only ended up missing three games with inflammation.

Similarly, the status of Aaron Judge’s left hand became the focal point of Tuesday’s immensely important game against the Orioles once the center fielder was removed from the game after being hit by a pitch. If Judge’s testing came back unfavorably, the offense would become a shell of itself, as it would without Soto. With the seven non-Soto and non-Judge hitters being inconsistent and unreliable, the Yankees can’t afford to lose either for an extended period of time. Thankfully, like Soto, Judge is fine.

2. “It’s a big relief,” Judge said. “Just being hit there before a couple of years ago and breaking my wrist, you never know what’s going to happen.”

Losing Judge for weeks or months would have put a damper on the Yankees’ 4-2 win, but everything worked out on the field and in the X-ray room.

“We just wanted to make sure to get it looked at,” Aaron Boone said of pulling Judge, “and see what we were dealing with.”

It doesn’t matter that Albert Suarez wasn’t trying to hit Judge, he still hit him. If you can’t pitch inside without hitting batters, don’t pitch inside.

3. “We all know that they didn’t try to hit Judge right there, but it’s a little frustrating,” Soto said. “It’s a little uncomfortable.”

It’s more than a little frustrating. It’s a lot frustrating. If Judge is forced to miss Wednesday’s game or Thursday’s game against the Orioles, the hit by pitch has enormous implications on the AL East and could be the difference between having to play in the best-of-3 wild-card round or having a bye to the best-of-5 ALDS.

4. “At the end of the day, we don’t take what happened lightly,” Alex Verdugo said. “But at the same time, I don’t believe it was intentional.”

Well, the Yankees do take it somewhat lightly since no Oriole was hit. Nestor Cortes threw inside to Gunnar Henderson, but didn’t hit him. If that was all the Yankees plan on doing in retaliation, that’s not enough. Whether or not Judge was hit on purpose, Henderson needs to be hit. That’s the way it goes. Henderson or Adley Rutschman. Take your pick. One of them needs to eat a fastball.

5. “I wouldn’t say I would expect anything to roll over,” Verdugo said. “But I do expect that there’s gonna be a little bit more edge.”

If any of these next two games gets out of hand, I do expect it to roll over. Unfortunately, four runs wasn’t enough of a lead on Tuesday to avenge Judge since the Yankees ended up needing every run they could get with Clay Holmes on the mound.

6. Holmes entered with the Yankees leading 4-0 in the ninth, allowed a leadoff single to Henderson and then promptly gave up a two-run home run to Anthony Santander. Holmes eventually got out of the inning, but not before making Yankees fans squirm again.

Since the disaster on May 20 against the Mariners (when Holmes entered with a 0.00 ERA on the season), he has allowed eight earned runs and 22 baserunners in 11 innings with only seven strikeouts. I can’t continue to stress enough how important it is the Yankees have a closer who doesn’t rely on balls in play to get outs.

Another reason for Holmes’ issues on Tuesday was another extended layoff. Holmes went four days between appearances last week against the Royals and lost the game in the ninth. Prior to Tuesday, he hadn’t pitched since that Royals game five days earlier and allowed two runs. Holmes needs to pitch somewhat consistently, save situation or not.

7. The Yankees’ offense had six hits in the game (just one extra-base hit), but did manage six walks (three from Soto). The Orioles’ offense only had one of their eight hits go for extra bases as well and had just one walk, against Michael Tonkin.

Tonkin’s role with the Yankees continues to grow in importance, and it seems that he has passed over both Tommy Kahnle and Ian Hamilton for Boone’s bullpen pecking order. Tonkin was given the seventh inning on Tuesday in a four-run game against the Yankees’ sole competition for the division title. There isn’t a person in the world who envisioned this for Tonkin when the Yankees picked him up off the scrap heap and inserted him into that April 26 game against the Brewers. From April 26 through the end of May, these are the games Tonkin pitched in as a Yankee:

April 26: Lost game in 11th with him on the mound
April 28: 10-run win
May 2: Five-run loss
May 7: Seven-run win
May 11: Five-run loss
May 19: Five-run win
May 22: Four-run win (would have been a six-run win, but he allowed two runs)
May 26: Three-run loss
May 30: Five-run win

Tonkin wasn’t allowed near a close game in his first month with the Yankees, and the only close game he appeared in was one he made close himself. But then everything changed for him on June 2 in San Francisco (the crazy ninth-inning comeback game) when he pitched two scoreless innings in that 7-5 win. Since that day, Tonkin’s stock has risen within the Yankees and based on Tuesday night, he’s going to be the guy bridging the gap from starter to Luke Weaver in close games, and he deserves it with his 0.00 ERA in 13 innings since May 22.

7. Ben Rice made his major-league debut and went 1-for-4 with a line-drive single. A nice debut for Rice, who was removed for defensive purposes in the eighth.

Rice is viewed as a kid getting his first call-up to the majors, and he is, but what’s crazy is Soto isn’t even four months older than him. I think people tend to forget how young Soto is because this is his sixth season in the majors. He’s 25! Give him $1 billion!

8. DJ LeMahieu will always be the man for his 2019 and 2020 seasons when he tried to single-handedly carry the Yankees at times when the rest of the names in the lineup were hurt or underperforming. I was all for re-signing LeMahieu because of this and because the Yankees’ lineup lacked depth prior to the 2021 season. (Aaron Hicks was the Opening Day 3-hitter.) But after season-ending injuries in 2021 and 2022 that cost him postseason play both years and then his ongoing injuries in 2023 and this year, it’s difficult to believe LeMahieu will ever be even a shell of his former self. He used to be the guy I wanted up most in big spots, and now he’s the guy I want up least. Every ball is hit on the ground, and he has yet to pick up an extra-base hit in 56 plate appearances.

He has only played in 16 games and deserves a longer leash than that, considering Gleyber Torres and Anthony Rizzo have endless leashes, but the early results are not good. I’m holding out hope that this is him shaking off the rust, but I fear it’s not.

9. Nestor Cortes was awesome (6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 6 K), but it was to be expected with him pitching at home. Cortes now has a 1.57 ERA and 0.818 WHIP in eight home starts and a 5.57 ERA and 1.452 WHIP in eight road starts.

Because of this, if the postseason started today and Gerrit Cole is his normal, healthy self the rest of the season, I would go Cole in Game 1, Cortes in Game 2 and Luis Gil in Game 3, and then pray for rain between Games 3 and 4 to get Cole back on the mound on normal rest in Game 4 to keep Carlos Rodon and Marcus Stroman away.

10. Cole will make his 2024 debut on Wednesday night against the Orioles. He’s not completely stretched out, so he’s likely to only give the Yankees four or five innings, unless he’s extremely economical (which he tends to not always be). His return comes at the perfect time with the Orioles on the schedule and Cody Poteet headed to the injured list.

After Tuesday’s win, the Yankees’ division lead is back up to 2 1/2 games. If the Yankees can win behind Cole’s debut on Wednesday then Luis Gil goes in the series finale on Thursday. This series with its pitching matchups heavily favoring the Yankees is set up for the Yankees to create some real separation in the standings. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it’s hard not to, especially if Judge is in the lineup.