Yankees’ Batting Revolution: New Manager James Rowson Shifts Focus to Situational Fielding Proficiency

TAMPA — Aaron Judge has done it regularly in his career, dating back to his college days, but now James Rowson is beating him to the punch.

During a few rounds of batting practice every day, the Yankees’ new hitting coach will split the group of four hitters into two teams and call out different game scenarios: Runners on second and third, one out, infield in — five swings to get the job done.

The practice creates some competition between teammates but also prepares the Yankees for the kind of situations they may find themselves in during the game later that day.

“Just kind of gets us thinking so when we hop into game situations, it’s like, ‘Oh, first and third, one out? I’ve already done this 20 times,’” Judge said Thursday. “It’s exceptional. … That’s just always translated for me. And I like a little competition.”

James Rowson has been putting the Yankees’ hitters in situational batting practices.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The pregame routine is part of an emphasis on situational hitting, part of the game that DJ LeMahieu said “is going to be held to a higher standard” under Rowson.

The Yankees were one of the majors’ worst offenses last season in just about every area, and situational hitting was no exception.

Under Dillon Lawson and then Sean Casey as hitting coaches, they hit .227 with a .677 OPS with runners in scoring position, both of which ranked second-to-last in the majors.

Not since 2019 have the Yankees been one of the game’s better teams at hitting with runners in scoring position.

That year, they ranked first in both batting average (.294) and OPS (.890) with runners in scoring position.

Not surprisingly, they scored the most runs per game (5.82) in the majors that season.

Aaron Judge has taken a liking to Yankees new hitting coach James Rowson and his teachings.AP

When Rowson was the Twins’ hitting coach from 2017-2019, his offenses ranked ninth (.268), third (.283) and second (.292) in hitting with runners in scoring position.

“I know it’s called the hitting coach, but the goal is to score runs,” Rowson said. “So everything we do, when we have the situational-hitting rounds or we talk about that, it’s to move runners, it’s to get us closer to scoring that run. So I want that to always be on our mind, like, ‘Hey, how are we going to score runs?’

Some days we’re going to be able to get a lot of them and other days they’re going to be hard to come by. So we can’t let those opportunities go by with chances to score runs.”

So Rowson gets the Yankees prepared for those situations in batting practice. It’s a way to have some fun but also to get batters out of “swing mode automatic,” he said.

“You’ve seen it fade a little bit [around the game] in the last couple years, but I think it’s important,” Rowson said of the situational-hitting rounds.

Anthony Rizzo #48, speaking to new hitting coach James Rowson during a workout at the New York Yankees Minor League complex in Tampa Florida.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

It’s just one of the reasons why the Yankees have enjoyed having Rowson back around the team.

He already had a strong relationship with Judge dating back to his days as the Yankees’ minor league hitting coordinator, and the two seem to have picked up where they left off.

“Getting a chance to have him come back here, I was pretty ecstatic,” Judge said. “He knows how to get on players but also, he keeps the energy level always high. I’ve never seen him come in here without a smile. He’s always locked in, ready to go. When you bring that type of good energy, it rubs off on everyone else.”

Judge appreciates that Rowson will speak each hitter’s language and do deep dives on his swing when he asks.

LeMahieu, who began building a relationship with the coach during offseason workouts at the Yankees’ facility, pointed to Rowson trying “to get guys to be the best versions of themselves.”

And Aaron Boone cited Rowson’s ability to connect, communicate, listen and apply.

“He’s a glue guy, but he’s also patient in how he deals with guys, gets a feel for guys, how to talk to guys,” Boone said. “His experience shows in that regard.”

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