Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks hit grand slams as Yankees pound Pirates 16-0

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PITTSBURGH — Aaron Judge felt like he was “stuck” on 29 home runs for “a while.”

Of course, “a while” is a relative term when it comes to the New York Yankees slugger. What Judge considered a drought of sorts was in reality a span of four games.

One mighty swing put Judge back on track and helped the Yankees start the second half of their schedule with a bang.

Judge sent a laser to the seats in left field in the eighth inning for his third career grand slam – and 30th homer of the season, most in the majors – as New York drilled the Pittsburgh Pirates 16-0 on Wednesday night to split their two-game interleague set.

Aaron Hicks added a grand slam of his own an inning later on a night when the Yankees hit six home runs in all to push their team total to a major league-leading 139.

Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson, Joey Gallo and Kyle Higashioka also homered for New York to back Luis Severino.

“Games like this help guys get rolling,” Judge said. “Guys had good at-bats, put a couple of balls in the gaps and all of a sudden guys take off for a week or two or a whole month or even the rest of the season.”

It’s a zone Judge has seemingly been in since opening day. Hours after Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner admitted it may take a record contract to keep Judge from hitting free agency next winter, the outfielder looked worth every penny. He finished with three of New York’s season-high 22 hits while becoming the first Yankees player to reach the 30-homer plateau before the All-Star break twice in his career.

It’s a number that left New York manager Aaron Boone shaking his head.

“It’s hard for me to relate to that,” said Boone, who never hit more than 26 home runs in a season during his 12-year career. “So it’s been pretty impressive, whatever – halfway in here – the kind of baseball he’s playing. Obviously the power has been right there.”

Hicks cleared the bases in the ninth when he went deep against Pirates utility infielder Josh VanMeter, who was making his third relief appearance of the season.

“It feels like any one of those guys could hit a homer at any point,” VanMeter said. “You just go out there and throw strikes and whatever happens happens, really. You’re not out there competing. You’re just trying to save some pitchers’ arms and pick them up.”

Severino (5-3) allowed four hits over six dominant innings, striking out three without a walk to pick up his first victory in more than a month. The right-hander retired 12 straight and 18 of the final 20 hitters he faced after giving up a single to Ke'Bryan Hayes and a double to Bryan Reynolds to begin the bottom of the first.

The victory ended a two-game skid for New York, which began the second half of the season with the same recipe that carried the Yankees to the best record in the majors and the second-best start in franchise history through 81 games: dominant starting pitching and plenty of power.

After using some small ball to take a 2-0 lead in the fourth thanks in part to a hit-and-run and a stolen base, Donaldson and Gallo took Mitch Keller (2-6) deep twice in the span of three pitches in the sixth to break it open.

New York was just getting started, adding one in the seventh, then five in the eighth and six in the ninth to improve to 3-3 on a four-city, 10-game road trip.

“It’s tough to hold this lineup down,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “You don’t see it happen very often. They score a bunch of runs and (Judge) is the catalyst for that.”

Reynolds had two of Pittsburgh’s four hits but the Pirates could muster little against Severino and three New York relievers.

Keller worked in and out of trouble over six innings, allowing four runs on a season-high 10 hits with a walk and seven strikeouts. He was long gone by the time New York overwhelmed Pittsburgh’s overtaxed bullpen.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Yankees: Held 1B Anthony Rizzo out of the lineup for a second straight game due to back stiffness. Boone indicated Rizzo would likely miss Thursday’s game in Boston, too.

Pirates: OF Greg Allen (hamstring) was scheduled to begin a rehabilitation assignment at Class A Bradenton. Allen, claimed off waivers from the Yankees last fall, hasn’t played all season.

ON THE MOVE

The Yankees reinstated reliever Miguel Castro from the restricted list and designated reliever Ryan Weber for assignment.

Pittsburgh reinstated reliever Yerry De Los Santos from the COVID-19 list. The Pirates optioned reliever Cam Vieaux to Triple-A Indianapolis and designated reliever Austin Brice for assignment.

UP NEXT

Yankees: Head to Boston for the first time this season when they begin a four-game weekend series at Fenway Park on Thursday night. Gerrit Cole (7-2, 2.99 ERA) faces Boston’s Josh Winckowski (3-2, 3.12) in the opener.

Pirates: Play a day-night doubleheader in Cincinnati on Thursday.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.