Aaron Judge: ‘You never know’ if 62 homers possible this year

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla, — Aaron Judge flashed a big smile when asked if he could repeat his accomplishments of last year, when he hit an American League record 62 home runs for the New York Yankees.

“You never know,” he said after the Yankees’ first full-squad workout on Monday. “I don’t really like putting a number on it. I just kind of like going out there and trying to contral what I can control, but you never know what could happen. So, we’ll see about 62.”

Judge was voted the American League MVP after breaking Roger Maris’ AL record of 61 homers, set in 1961. Judge’s 131 RBIs tied the New York Mets’ Pete Alonso for most in the majors and Judge’s .311 batting average was second in the AL. After becoming a free agent, Judge agreed to a $360 million, nine-year contract with the Yankees.

“Last year was fun chasing history and having those moments,” Judge said. “Every time we play in New York I feel like you’re chasing history. It’s never a cakewalk in the Bronx, that’s for sure. You have to enmbrace those challenges.”

Judge slumped offensively as New York was swept in the AL Championship Series by eventual World Series champion Houston. He went 1 for 16 (.063) with no homers or RBIs.

New York hasn’t won the World Series since 2009.

“It bothers me, and I think it bothers the group as well,” Judge said, “Every year we don’t finish what we started, it wears on us in different ways. I think every failure pushes you towards that ultimate goal.”

After Judge agreed to the longterm deal with the Yankees, he become New York’s first captain since Derek Jeter from 2003-13.

“I’ll be doing what I’ve been doing the past six or seven years, try and lead by example,” Judge said. “Be a voice for this team on and off the field. Keep pushing this team to the ultimate goal of bringing a championship back to New York.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Judge added. “It’s one of the main reasons why I wanted to come back and wear pinstripes. Have a lot of unfinished business here. I’m looking forward to the new role but stuff doesn’t change for me.”

Notes: Judge took batting practice for the first time with the pitch clock that will be used this season. “Oh man, I completely forgot about it until about three pitches in,” Judge said. “I had to kind of check myself because I was getting into the box around eight or nine seconds. That would be strike one, strike two, strke three on me. Once we play a couple games, get a couple at-bats, guys will get used to it.” … Judge is looking to improve his contact rate this season and has talked with other big leaguers about two-strike approaches, including mixing in the no-stride approach.

Trevor Bauer pulls on No. 96 for Yokohama’s BayStars

Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

YOKOHAMA, Japan – Trevor Bauer apparently was shunned by every major league team, so he’s signed a one-year deal with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

Before about 75 reporters in a Yokohama hotel, he slipped on the BayStars uniform – No. 96 – on Friday and said all the right things. Not a single Japanese reporter asked him about his suspension in the United States over domestic violence allegations or the reasons surrounding it.

The only question about it came from The Associated Press. Bauer disputed the fact the question suggested he was suspended from the major leagues.

“I don’t believe that’s accurate,” he said of the suspension. “But I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to pitch again. I’ve always wanted to play in Japan.”

He said the suspension dealt technically with matters of pay, and he said he had contacted major league teams about playing this year. He said he would have been eligible, but did not say if he had offers.

The 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Jan. 12, three weeks after an arbitrator reduced his suspension imposed by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred from 324 to 194 games.

The penalty followed an investigation into domestic violence, which the pitcher has denied.

Manfred suspended Bauer last April for violating the league’s domestic violence and sexual assault policy, after a San Diego woman said he beat and sexually abused her in 2021.

Bauer has maintained he did nothing wrong, saying everything that happened between him and the woman was consensual. He was never charged with a crime.

Bauer joined his hometown Dodgers before the 2021 season and was 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts before being placed on paid leave.

Bauer said his goal with the BayStars was to strike out 200 and keep his average fastball velocity at 96 mph – hence his uniform number. He said he is also working on a better change-up pitch.

He said he hoped to play by mid-April – about two weeks after the Japanese season begins – and said he has been training for the last 1 1/2 years.

“I’ve been doing a lot of strength training and throwing,” he said. “I didn’t really take any time off. So I’ve had a year and a half of development time. I’m stronger than ever. More powerful than ever.”

Yokohama has not won a title in 25 years, and Bauer said that was his goal in the one-year deal.

“First and foremost, I want to help the Stars win a championship,” he said. “That involves pitching well. That involves helping teammates and learning from them. If they have questions – you know – share my knowledge with them.”

He also repeated several times about his desire to play in Japan, dating from a collegiate tournament in 2009 at the Tokyo Dome. He said playing in Japan was on his mind even before winning the Cy Young – and also immediately after.

“The Tokyo Dome was sold out,” he said. “I’d never played in front of that many people – probably combined in my life. In the United States, college games aren’t very big, so seeing that amount of passion. How many people came to a college game in Japan. It really struck me.”

He said he’d been practicing with the Japanese ball, which he said was slightly softer with higher seams.

“But overall it just feels like a baseball and the pitches move the same. The velocity is similar. I don’t notice much of a difference.”

Other teams in Japan have made similar controversial signings before.

Former major league reliever Roberto Osuna – who received a 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy – signed last season with the Chiba Lotte Marines.

He has signed for this season with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

In 1987, Dodgers relief pitcher Steve Howe, who had a career plagued with drug problems, tried to sign with the Seibu Lions. But he did not play in the country after the Japanese baseball commissioner disqualified Howe because of his history of drug abuse.

Bauer was an All-Star in 2018 and went 83-69 with a 3.79 ERA in 10 seasons for Arizona (2012), Cleveland, (2013-19), Cincinnati (2019-20) and the Dodgers. He won the NL Cy Young Award with Cincinnati during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.