Aaron Judge’s return causes unavoidable Yankees dilemma

Aaron Judge’s return from the injured list took care of right field Wednesday night against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees didn’t activate him not to play when every inning left in a very weird season counts.

What it did do was make Aaron Boone decide between a very productive Clint Frazier, a right-handed hitter who has morphed into the Yankees’ third best player, and the left-handed hitting Brett Gardner in left field. Boone also could have gone with fellow lefty swinger Mike Tauchman.

Boone went with Frazier, who entered the game hitting .350 (7-for-20) with a 1.090 OPS and a .440 on-base percentage in the previous six games, over Gardner and Tauchman, who were mired in deep slumps. Based on where Gardner, who has been a mentor to Frazier, and Tauchman were and how well Frazer was swinging the bat and playing defense, it couldn’t have been that tough of a call for Boone, whose club was trying to extend a six-game winning streak.

Gardner was hitting .185 (20-for-108) in 41 games and Tauchman had batted .156 (5-for-32) in the previous 14 games.

Aaron Judge (l) and Clint Frazier
Aaron Judge (l) and Clint FrazierPaul J. Bereswill

Not only has Frazier been a difference-maker in the batting order, his play in right field is eons away from what it was last year when fly balls and ground balls were adventures. That, he said recently, was related to the concussion he suffered in 2018.

While Boone talked about Gardner and Tauchman “being game-changers’’ defensively, he lauded Frazier’s improvement.

“Loved what we see from Clint. His athleticism is really starting to show up for him in the outfield,’’ Boone said. “Looking forward to see him continue to build on what has been a really nice run for him.’’

While the Yankees are tasked with getting Judge ready for the postseason, they also have to balance that against him not re-injuring the right calf that had limited him to one game since Aug. 12. Boone said Judge wouldn’t be in the lineup Wednesday. That means Frazier will likely move from left to right.

Though Boone gushed about Frazier’s defense, it won’t be a shock if the manager lifts Frazier for defense in the late innings of games in which the Yankees have a lead.

“Possibly,’’ Boone said about using Gardner or Tauchman to protect a lead. “With Clint going over to left field and left field in our stadium and all that ground and [Gardner and Tauchman] play it so well out there, kind of game-changers defensively for us out there.’’

For far too much of Boone’s three-year tenure he hasn’t been able to put Judge’s name on a lineup card as much as he would like. So, understandably, dropping Judge into the No. 2 spot between MVP candidate DJ LeMahieu and the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks, whose .374 on-base percentage helps offset a disappointing .209 batting average, got Boone’s juices flowing.

“Lot of excitement, just seeing him walk in [Wednesday] and seeing how everything went [Tuesday at the alternate site], writing him back in the lineup is big,’’ said Boone, who explained he didn’t give much thought to leaving Luke Voit, who led the majors with 18 homers, in the No. 2 spot, which is Judge’s home. “Get through today and start building these guys [Giancarlo Stanton and Judge] and getting a lot closer to being whole.’’

As for where Gardner fits, Boone wasn’t ready to count out the 37-year-old.

“I feel like the last couple of weeks he starting to get it going a little bit. The results haven’t necessarily matched what we have seen on some of the underlying things he has been doing,’’ Boone said of Gardner, who was 4-for-11 (.364) with a .533 on-base percentage in the previous five games. “There are going to be opportunities down the stretch. A lot can change between now and next week, three weeks from now. He is a very important player for us and I expect that to continue.’’

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