TORONTO — The first time the Yankees’ Aaron Judge played center field as a big leaguer was at Rogers Centre. It was a one-off early in 2018 before he returned to roaming right field for the rest of the season.
Four years later, Judge was back north of the border Friday night as the Yankees’ de facto starting center fielder, and he was relishing the opportunity.
“I’ve always felt like I’m the center fielder,” Judge said before the Yankees opened a three-game series against the Blue Jays. “Even when they keep putting me in right field, I always treat everything like I’m the center fielder. But it’s good. Honestly, whatever the team needs. If this gives us the best lineup and gets the guys that we need out there every single day — I’ll play left field, I’ll play wherever they need me. It’s been fun.”
Judge’s start in center Friday was his 11th in the last 12 games and 16th in the last 20. Overall, it was his 29th start in center compared to 24 in right field. There had previously been concerns about how his 6-foot-7, 282-pound frame would hold up playing center on a consistent basis, but he has so far quelled those worries, saying his body felt the same as it had as an everyday right fielder.
“No real change in that aspect yet, so we’ll see,” said Judge, who played center field at Fresno State. “But it’s still June. We’ll see when we get down in the dog days of the summer in August and end of September. But so far, so good.”
Because of the Rogers Centre’s turf, which can be unforgiving on players’ legs, manager Aaron Boone said he expected to get Judge a day as DH during this series and potentially a day off during the next series at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., which also features turf.
“In the midst of a 20 in a row too, so it’s something I’m mindful of,” Boone said. “But also don’t want to be overly concerned. We’re not playing in a parking lot.”
On Friday, Judge playing center field allowed the Yankees to put Giancarlo Stanton in right field, meaning Josh Donaldson could DH and DJ LeMahieu could play third base. Other days, it has allowed them to play Joey Gallo in right field, where he has said he is more comfortable, with Aaron Hicks shifting to left.
While his bat has been red-hot regardless of where he plays, Judge’s defense in center has been steady. Entering Friday, he had registered zero outs above average, according to Baseball Savant, which was slightly better than Hicks’ minus-one.
While Judge is familiar with most of the center fields in AL East stadiums, he will need extra preparation at times when the Yankees are on the road.
“I think some of the interleague games we’re going to play, that’s where I’ll have to spend some time out there and see the wall, see how it bounces off the wall, the warning track, the grass, how the ground balls move,” Judge said. “But it’s part of our job. I like those little things.”