Aaron Judge back? Luis Gil’s limit? Good vibes abound: 3 Yankees takeaways

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - MAY 12: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees hits a two-run home run during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on May 12, 2024 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — They were so loud you could hear them through the concrete walls.

A raucous, beer-soaked celebration was how the New York Yankees capped off their 10-6 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

Players screamed and even barked as Jahmai Jones, one of the day’s many stars, spoke in front of them and received the team’s Player of the Game championship belt. All kinds of pop music blared from the speakers against one of the clubhouse walls. The room still smelled like light beer when reporters were allowed in.

“Team stuff,” catcher Jose Trevino said. “Dog stuff.”

It was a good day to be part of the Evil Empire.

In fact, it’s been a good season, as their 27-15 record put them a half-game behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Yankees are 8-3 in May. Following Monday’s off day, they’ll head to Minnesota, where they have owned the Twins for years. Since 2018, they are 73-32 versus the Twins, their best winning percentage against any American League club.

Here are three takeaways as the Yankees continue to surge.

Aaron Judge is back

The biggest development for the Yankees has been Judge’s return to normal. Which is to say, his return to being one of the best hitters in the game.

Sunday’s win featured all that’s right with Judge. All four balls he put into play were at 104.6 mph or faster. His fifth-inning, two-run home run gave the Yankees a 6-0 lead, and it was his 10th of the year (the fourth most in the AL). He worked a seven-pitch walk in the third inning despite falling behind 0-2.


Judge also expanded his on-base streak to 10 games. Over that span, he’s batting .364 (12-for-33). Judge had been hitless with two walks and a hit-by-pitch in the first two games of the series, though Boone said those results were misleading “considering how he’s swinging the bat.”

“He’s walking,” Boone said. “He’s getting on base.”

Things had been looking to turn around for Judge. Watching him all season, he hasn’t appeared in any obvious physical discomfort, despite the ongoing issue with the right toe injury he suffered last year and the abdominal discomfort he felt during spring training. And now he’s just getting results. The underlying stats had also been on Judge’s side. A sampling:

• As of Sunday night, he had an expected weighted on-base percentage of .399, in MLB’s 94th percentile.

• His 76.5 mph bat speed was in the 97th percentile.

• His hard-hit rate, accounting for balls hit over 95 mph, was 57.4 percent — within the 97th percentile.

Judge reached his low point when he was batting just .197 with six homers through his first 33 games.

Now? He appears back.

“That was inevitable,” Boone said.

Luis Gil is on the attack

Nobody expected Gerrit Cole’s replacement to have the lowest ERA among Yankees starters at this point of the season.

Yet, here Luis Gil is, holding a 2.51 ERA through eight starts thanks to six scoreless innings Sunday.

Chew on this:

• Gil is the first Yankees pitcher to throw six-plus innings and allow one run or fewer in at least three straight starts since Cole did it in June 2022.

• He’s also allowed three hits or fewer in seven of his eight starts this season.

• Gil has been fastball-changeup heavy while mixing in a slider. Opponents have just a .233 slugging percentage against his heater, which he throws 58.3 percent of the time and averages 96.4 mph. His changeup has been even better with a .167 slugging percentage against.


“He’s on the attack all the time,” Trevino said. “He doesn’t give in to anybody. It doesn’t matter who you are. He’s trying to attack you with everything he’s got. I think he’s doing a pretty good job of that.”

Boone said: “Hitters tell you a lot. They’re overwhelmed a lot by just his stuff and aren’t able to really — even when they get a good swing off, they’re not able usually to clip it, and that’s a testament to just whether it’s deception, velocity, spin, whatever it may be. Hitters tell you that thing is getting on you.”

Let’s get ahead of ourselves for a moment. At some point, the Yankees will likely have to pull the plug on Gil as a starting pitcher, no matter how much it hurts. His high for total innings came in 2021 when he pitched 79 1/3 in the minors and 29 1/3 for the Yankees. He pitched just four innings last year due to Tommy John surgery.

The Yankees insist he’s not on a traditional innings cap. That’s because they’re using technology to track his energy levels. That includes everything from his average velocity to his arm path. So, maybe Gil could surprise and last much longer than anybody expects. More likely, the Yankees could look to push him toward a relief role when Cole returns at some point this summer.

“Of course, I want to be here,” Gil said via an interpreter. “I want to be part of this team. But at the same time, I’m too focused on what I need to do.”

So many good vibes

Winning cures everything, and the Yankees are a testament to that. So far, they have been able to leave behind the terrible memories from their fourth-place finish in 2023. And the clubhouse has been filled with good vibes.

A couple of interesting scenes:

• Gleyber Torres, who has been mostly terrible with a 58 OPS+ entering Sunday, crushed a clutch three-run home run in the eighth inning to extend the Yankees’ lead to 9-5 on Sunday. When he crossed the plate, Anthony Rizzo wrapped him up with a hug and held him there for a moment. Players spilled out of the dugout to congratulate him. It’s not how Torres thought his contract year would play out, but he felt the love Sunday.

“For that reason, I always say this is home, this is more than teammates, it’s family,” he said. “The relationships I have here are amazing, and everybody is here with me right now.”


• Jones had just six plate appearances this season before he crushed a solo homer in the third inning — the first blast of his career. He made his MLB debut in 2020. Boone and the players knew Jones had been through a lot, barely getting a chance to play despite showing up every day. They showered him in beer in the postgame celebration, which was also sweet because his moment came on Mother’s Day. Jones’ father, Andrew, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 2011 when Jones was 13 years old. His mother, Michele, took care of him and his five siblings.

After the home run, the Yankees dugout went nuts, and Alex Verdugo — whose place Jones took in the lineup — greeted him with a boisterous high-five.

“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Jones said.

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