TAMPA — Aaron Judge is probably won-and-done, already leaning against defending his Home Run Derby title even if MLB asks him to return, and good for him.
The Yankees slugger put on a show in Miami last July, blasting four balls over 500 feet en route to the crown. But he struggled following the All-Star break, finally admitting at the beginning of camp that those struggles were due to his injured left shoulder that ultimately required offseason surgery.
Judge gave a non-answer when asked about past speculation that there could be a connection between the event and the injury: “I’d rather not say.”
Regardless, all those swings certainly could’ve aggravated pre-existing discomfort in that area, as Judge’s aggressive style led to him playing banged up.
“The Derby wasn’t even that big of a toll, to be honest,” Judge said on Thursday. “It was just like taking BP. It really wasn’t too taxing. I wasn’t trying to swing 110 percent. I was just taking 80-90 percent swings, just trying to make contact.”
Whatever the case, Judge said, it’s his decision. “I did it once, loved the experience, was able to win it, and I did the Derby,” he said. “One and done is good for me.”
Giancarlo Stanton, the 2016 champion, and Gary Sanchez, who upset Stanton in the first round in 2017, may also have to make decisions on the event, and neither would be wrong in saying no. For his part, Sanchez said it was too early to say, and he wasn’t sure.
Brian Cashman said he just wants the Bombers to continue to slug their way to Derby contention.
“My job is to get as many Home Run Derby candidates as I can find,” the GM said. “That’s all I’ll continue to do. How it plays out, every year is different.”
But the bottom line is that fans can watch these players launch bombs during batting practice in ballparks across the country. YES Network has a pregame batting practice show, and the Yankees are probably going to open their stadium early so fans can get a glimpse at all the homers hit during BP.
So you’d really have to be living under a rock not to see the spectacle in some form.
MLB would probably be better served giving Derby participants more time off before and after the All-Star festivities. And maybe make the Derby field smaller, so it’s not as taxing on participants. The addition of a timer probably didn’t help matters in that respect — even if it made the event more exciting.
“It’s tough, but it’s a good problem to have,” Judge said. “I wouldn’t mind having no breaks over every All-Star break. It’s a good problem to have.”
Judge first specified he’d probably be one-and-done on CC Sabathia’s R2C2 Players’ Tribune podcast, which led to him being surrounded by reporters at his locker Thursday morning.
“For me, it’s just I’m focused on other things right now,” Judge said. “I’m not really focused on the Derby. It’s March 8. I have other goals in mind, other things I want to accomplish and take care of first before I really start thinking about a derby.”
Judge joked that he wouldn’t think about the Derby until the day before the event. He’s simply trying to get right physically and timing wise at the plate so he can be ready for Opening Day.
“We’re right on track,” he said. “I feel good. My shoulder’s been feeling good. When I first got down here there was still a little soreness left in there, but this past week especially it’s pain-free, no soreness, feeling great. Just trying to maintain that and keep that going into the season.”
Judge’s focus is on trying to win a ring. He’s already won the Home Run Derby. So won-and-done makes perfect sense. And it may also make perfect sense for his power-hitting teammates as well. The 2019 Derby in D.C. may not be the same without him, but maybe it’s a chance for someone else to emerge.
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