After Aaron Judge broke Roger Maris’ American League single-season home run record last season, the outfielder started off 2023 with a homer with his first swing of the season.
It was a good way for Judge to begin his encore as he looks to improve on his historic year, which both Judge and hitting coach Dillon Lawson said was the goal.
“There are two ways to approach it: You can compare him to what’s been done before, which doesn’t leave much room for improvement given what he’s done before, or think about what hasn’t been done before that we think is possible,’’ Lawson said. “The second one is the mindset he has. There are certain things he accomplished last year that hadn’t been done in quite some time. The next step is what hasn’t been done, period.”
That begs the question, what is the goal?
Judge and Lawson both declined to get into specifics when it came to potential numbers, saying they never talked about Judge’s home run total last year.
Asked before the Yankees’ 7-5 loss to the Giants at the Stadium if Barry Bonds’ record of 73 home runs was on his radar, Judge said it wasn’t.
“Realistically, I don’t think I can get to 74,” Judge said, who went 3-for-5 with an RBI single in the loss. “My swing doesn’t work that way. I just try to hit line drives.”
Still, he got to 62 a year ago even when he didn’t hit his first homer until the sixth game of the season and didn’t hit another until Game 14.
Perhaps a hot start, another healthy season and the security of a nine-year, $360 million contract could make Judge even more dangerous.
“I have certain goals and numbers in mind, but that kind of stuff just happens,’’ Judge said. “And the number of home runs I hit really isn’t something I control. A lot of times, it’s on the pitcher.”
But Judge did admit after Thursday’s game that he was aware that players who have hit 60 home runs in the past have had a hard time duplicating the feat.
“I haven’t looked much into it, but I know very few have followed up with 60 [again],” Judge said. “I know a couple have hit 50 after that, so we’ll see what happens. Maybe we’ll make a new list.”
Lawson said of Judge: “He’s never been satisfied and always believes there’s more to accomplish. Guys as good as him are great at nitpicking and can always find things they think they could do better.”
The Giants are the first team this season to try to tame Judge. They got off to a rough start when Judge took Logan Webb deep on Thursday in the bottom of the first.
San Francisco’s pitching coach, Andrew Bailey, played with Judge at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for most of the second half of 2015 and is now tasked with trying to stop his former teammate.
“He was a specimen and worked hard, but I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted what he’s done,’’ Bailey said.
Bailey said of Judge now, “Every lineup has a few guys you have to make sure you focus on and are on the same page as a group. Judge is at the top of that list. He’s so hard to game plan, for and you have to be careful. He covers a lot of the zone and hits balls hard wherever you pitch him.”
Judge showed that again on Thursday and was pleased not to have to wait as long for his first one as he did a year ago.
“The first one is always the toughest for me, so it was good to get it out of the way,’’ Judge said.