Judge to bat cleanup for the first time in his Yankees career

CHICAGO — The Judge has moved into the cleanup spot.

Aaron Judge, who started the season by hitting eighth, batted fourth for the first time in his career on Saturday night against the Cubs. The Yankees’ 24-year-old rookie slugger leads all major-leaguers with 13 homers.

“I think you give players more as they continue to do well,” Joe Girardi said. “You don’t want to throw guys into the fire right away, so sometimes you’ll take your time in moving guys (up). And you have (Matt) Holliday who’s out of the lineup, Sanchee (Gary Sanchez) who’s not gotten it going yet, and that’s part of it too. But I think you give him bits and pieces and if you remember I started Sanchee seventh and eighth last year and then we moved him up as he continued to swing the bat well.”

The always modest Judge downplayed the promotion in the batting order.

“I really didn’t hope to (move up) at all. I was happy where I was,” Judge said. “The guys in front of me were getting on base, and you can’t really complain when you’ve got guys like (Starlin) Castro, (Chase) Headley, Sanchez and (Jacoby) Ellsbury in front of you hitting, so I didn’t mind it at all. Just as long as my name was in the lineup, I was happy.”

He has a fan in former Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, who had high praise for the youngster on the FOX broadcast.

“(Judge) looks like an all-pro NFL tight end but moves around like a shortstop; a hybrid between Dave Winfield and Manny Ramírez,” A-Rod said.

Judge went 2-for-4 in his debut at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon.

“It was awesome. I loved every minute of it. Good atmosphere,” Judge said. “The fans were in it the whole game. It was pretty fun.”

Playing right field, however, proved to be difficult, as it is for every outfielder when the wind is blowing around at the Friendly Confines. Judge had trouble with a Wilson Contreras fly ball that he dropped for a three-base error.

“I found out why it’s the Windy City,” Judge joked.

Judge is glad that Sanchez, who had his own scintillating stretch last season, is back in the lineup after missing 21 games due to injury.

“He’s our best hitter,” Judge said. “I’m excited he’s back and I’m excited for what he’s going to do this year. It’s going to be fun.”

Asked why he thinks Sanchez is the best hitter on the team, Judge replied: “He just is. Just based on his swing, his approach, what he can do at the plate. Just what I’ve seen over the past 3-4 years playing with him (in the minors and majors).”

Led by Judge’s bat, glove and arm, the Yankees are off to a surprising start.

“We don’t listen to what other people say,” Judge said. “We’re here to take care of our business and do what we need to do on the field. And when you’ve got 25 guys who are pulling the same rope and fighting and always competing and getting quality at-bats, good things are going to happen.”

ELLSBURY RETURNING?

Jacoby Ellsbury (elbow) was not in the lineup for a fourth straight game, but Joe Girardi thinks Ellsbury will be able to start on Sunday night.

“We’re hoping that he’s a player tomorrow,” Girardi said. “I want him to kind of pick it up today and throw a little bit more. He said he feels a lot better than he did yesterday, so I would think he’ll be a full player tomorrow.”

Ellsbury served as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning on Friday afternoon and drew a walk.

“I’m going to hit today and throw, and the plan is to shoot for tomorrow,” Ellsbury said.

HOLLIDAY AT FIRST?

Matt Holliday, who hasn’t played the field yet this season, could get a start at first on Sunday night against lefty Jon Lester, Joe Girardi said. 

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