Yankees takeaways: A new celebration, troubling signs for Stanton and Judge breaks out

PHOENIX — It took Alex Verdugo 30.86 seconds to cross home plate after his go-ahead two-run home run in the 10th inning of Wednesday’s game. It was a no-doubter off the bat, and Verdugo made sure he enjoyed each section of his first home run in a New York Yankees uniform. It’s the slowest home run trot of the 2024 season so far.

“I wish he would have taken some time to admire it,” manager Aaron Boone quipped.

By the time Verdugo got back to the dugout, the Yankees were already barking like wild dogs and chirping with their hands. Verdugo’s “We’re dawgs out here” quote has become the unofficial rallying cry inside the Yankees clubhouse over the past week. When Aaron Judge smoked a double in the eleventh inning, Marcus Stroman, wearing a vintage Bronx Bombers T-shirt, stood on the top step of the Yankees dugout and barked.

“There’s a lot of dogs in that dugout,” Judge said after Wednesday’s 6-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Verdugo hopes the barking continues as the season progresses. He believes little things like that can bring a team together. So far, Verdugo has emerged as a clubhouse favorite with the energy and swagger he’s brought. It did not work out well for him with the Boston Red Sox in his final season last year and it became apparent change was needed. He’s fit in seamlessly with the Yankees. Both Judge and Boone have said on multiple occasions how he’s someone they’ve been wanting to add to the roster for a few years.

Just maybe, he’ll hear Yankee Stadium’s right-field bleachers bark in his first home start Friday. Here are some more takeaways after the Yankees’ 6-1 start.

Stanton’s woes 

It was a familiar sight in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s game. Giancarlo Stanton badly waved and missed at a slider low and out of the zone for a strikeout. In 20 at-bats this year, Stanton has struck out 11 times. It’s the same problem that plagued him last season.

Stanton has seen 23 total pitches low and out of the strike zone. Of his 10 swings on those 23 pitches, he’s whiffed on eight of them. The potential long-term problem for Stanton is opposing pitchers know if they attack there, he has trouble laying off those pitches. In 2023, 26 percent of all the pitches Stanton saw at the plate were in that location, by far his most-attacked spot. He carried a 70 percent whiff percentage on those pitches and didn’t barrel any.

More than any point in Stanton’s career, opposing pitchers pounded that location last season. It resulted in the slugger’s worst year of his career. That strategy looks foolproof so far in 2024, which could spell more of the same for Stanton.

“No,” Boone said Tuesday when asked if he’s worried about Stanton. “I think he’s healthy. The life is there. The juice is there. It’s just a matter of getting him going. And even when G is at his very best, sometimes the outs aren’t always the prettiest. But as long as he’s healthy and firing, I feel like the bat speed and everything’s where it needs to be. It’s just about getting on time.”

Stanton reshaped his body this offseason to become more durable and reworked his swing to recapture the life he’s previously shown. It’s too early to wonder if Stanton will re-emerge but there’s reason to worry considering the same flaw is plaguing him already. If Stanton can’t figure it out by the time Jasson Domínguez is ready to return this summer and if everyone stays healthy, it will be interesting to see how long Boone and the organization stick with the designated hitter if he’s not producing.

Judge gets back on track

While Stanton hasn’t inspired much confidence, it only looked like a matter of time until Judge produced results. He entered Wednesday’s game hitting .125 and hadn’t hit a home run all year — including spring training. But the signs were there that he was due. Judge had a 44.4 percent hard-hit rate and faced some bad BABIP luck. That changed when he sailed an opposite-field home run into Chase Field’s most unique feature.

“I told him I wanted him to go visit the pool at some point this road trip,” Boone said. “I am glad he checked that box.”

Judge said he wasn’t getting caught up with his early-season stats and mentioned how easy it is to get discouraged when he looks up at the scoreboard and sees the poor results he’s had. Judge wasn’t the only hitter in the heart of the order who’s been struggling: Stanton, Judge and Anthony Rizzo entered Wednesday’s game a combined 10-for-66 with just three RBIs. For most of the first seven games, it’s been Juan Soto, Oswaldo Cabrera and Anthony Volpe carrying the Yankees’ lineup.

“I think we’re dangerous,” Verdugo said of the Yankees’ offensive potential. “It’s no secret we had three guys that were hotter than a pistol this whole week and then we’ve had some of the other guys that kind of started slow, me included. It’s just one of those things when you have your big guys kind of starting slow a little bit, you need other guys to take over and help. That’s why this game is so great. It’s nine players. Everybody can have a day to where they take over. I think the biggest thing is it takes pressure off the big dogs.”

The bullpen has been outstanding

Outside of newly acquired reliever Jake Cousins, who gave up a three-run home run in Tuesday’s loss, each Yankees reliever has looked nearly unhittable. That’s led by middle reliever Ian Hamilton. In Wednesday’s game, Hamilton pitched 2 2/3 innings and struck out four. He registered six whiffs on nine swings against his slider. It looked like he was throwing frisbees to the Diamondbacks’ hitters.

“That’s one of those where those guys haven’t seen him much at all,” Boone said. “Their swings showed it where it’s like, ‘What is that?’ It was a dominant performance.”

In 5 2/3 innings this season, Hamilton has allowed just one base runner and struck out seven. The Yankees’ bullpen has pitched 28 1/3 innings and has an ERA of 1.27. It was silly to not see the Yankees listed on MLB Network’s top 10 bullpens coming into 2024. The bullpen may not have a collection of household names, but year in and year out, the Yankees find a few no-name relievers who turn into some of the game’s best. Hamilton epitomizes that perfectly. He made the team out of spring training last year as a non-roster invitee. Nick Burdi, another non-roster invitee, has continued looking just as dominant as he did in spring training.

The one possible concern for the Yankees’ bullpen, especially in Gerrit Cole’s absence, is getting overworked. It’s already sixth in innings pitched.

Stroman ready for his Bronx debut

Stroman called pitching the home opener this Friday a “dream come true.” He’ll have several of his friends and family members in attendance, with his dad, stepmom and sister still living on Long Island. His brother, Jayden, a pitcher at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., will also be in The Bronx on Friday.

Though Stroman grew up in New York, he wasn’t a fan of the Yankees or the New York Mets. But he understands the significance of what pitching a home opener means to the fans. That’s why he’s been looking forward to this start since it became clear with how the schedule lined up that it would be his turn in the rotation.

“I’ve always been someone who has performed in (big) moments,” Stroman said. “I’ve always been someone who has wanted the ball. I think a lot of individuals don’t want the ball. I think a lot of individuals don’t want to be in the spotlight and want to avoid it. I’ve never been that. You want to be in pressure-filled moments. You want to compete at the highest level and have that pressure because that’s why I work as hard as I do in the offseason.”

Stroman said he can’t wait to walk to the bullpen before the game begins to get in his final moments of preparation. He’s ready to feel the crowd in pinstripes for the first time.

“It’ll be a moment I think I’ll remember forever,” Stroman said.

“New York’s got a different energy. Obviously, Yankee Stadium embodies that, but New York is a different animal.”

(Photo of Alex Verdugo celebrating his 10th-inning home run: Zac BonDurant / Getty Images)

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