Aaron Judge said he’d be ready for Opening Day.
He was right.
Judge started the much-delayed season with a pair of hits in the Yankees’ 4-1 rain-shortened win Thursday over the Nationals.
They were enough to impress one of his new teammates.
“Those were two pure swings on the ball,” Gerrit Cole said of Judge’s work at the plate.
The right fielder was sidelined in March after being diagnosed with a fractured rib and a collapsed lung that Judge likely suffered on a diving play last September.
General manager Brian Cashman said the rib injury would have kept Judge out until the “summer.” When baseball returned following the COVID-19 shutdown that was prolonged by a labor dispute, Judge then dealt with a stiff neck.
But he returned to hit three homers in two exhibition games and stayed hot Thursday against Washington’s Max Scherzer.
He ripped a 108-mph single to left with one out in the top of the first and scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s mammoth homer later in the inning that gave the Yankees and Cole a 2-0 lead.
“In the big picture, this was a chance to see our offense when everybody’s healthy,’’ Judge said. “I’m just trying to get on base for the big hitters behind me. We showed that tonight. We let [Stanton] do his thing.”
Judge came up again in the third with one out after Tyler Wade’s leadoff walk and an Aaron Hicks strikeout.
This time, Judge roped a double to left and the speedy Wade — who started at second base in place of DJ LeMahieu — came around to score to put the Yankees back up by two runs.
Judge had a chance to extend the Yankees’ lead again in the fifth with runners on the corners against Scherzer and one out, but he struck out looking. Stanton picked him up with an RBI single after Gleyber Torres walked to load the bases.
Judge insisted during spring training 2.0 that his neck was not an issue and on Tuesday declared himself “ready to go.”
Judge was limited to 102 games a year ago in part due to a left oblique strain and played just 112 games in 2018 because of a right wrist fracture.
In this abbreviated season, a similar extended absence would be especially damaging to Judge and the Yankees — and he proved why he’s so important to their lineup again on Thursday.
Aaron Boone said he was pleased with what he saw from both Judge and Stanton in the middle of the lineup.
“One of the things I felt really good about was this team was ready to go and those guys are leading the way, in a sense,’’ Boone said of the two sluggers. “They had really quality at-bats to confirm the work we’ve been seeing. Judge had a couple really good at-bats.”
But Judge also admitted there was something strange about the setting.
“It was good to have some real baseball back, but it was definitely odd,’’ Judge said of the empty stadium. “It was strange with a team celebrating a World Series championship and none of their fans were there to celebrate with them.”
In the end, though, it was OK.
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