Aaron Hicks looking to bunt more in tactical Yankees move

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TAMPA — The Yankees’ No. 3 hitter is getting his bunt on.

Aaron Hicks, as part of a larger attempt to stop opponents’ shifts from robbing him of potential hits to the right side, is introducing the bunt — or at least the real threat of one — to his repertoire.

“I feel like it’s there for me,” Hicks said Friday before going 1-for-3 with a double pulled down the first-base line in a 4-1 loss to the Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “I have plenty of speed to get to first and get hits that way. I feel like it just kind of sets up the rest of my day, to even start the day off with a bunt. No one’s on, big huge shift and nobody’s on third base, and kind of take advantage of it, because it’s there for me.

“I’ve kind of been overlooking it. I’ve hit [into] the shift way too much to kind of earn respect for it. So I think adding the bunt to my game is definitely going to create some problems.”

Aaron Boone reiterated Friday that Hicks is “a natural in the three spot” for the Yankees, hitting between sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, with DJ LeMahieu leading off. The manager likes that Hicks, a switch-hitter, can be a lefty to break up a string of right-handed bats, doesn’t ground into many double plays and gets on base at a high clip (.379 on-base percentage last season).

But in order to remain a threat for plenty of non-home run hits, too, Hicks is altering his approach at the plate so he doesn’t fall victim so often to the shift. He lamented Friday that opponents shifting him with three infielders on the right side has taken away plenty of line drives and hard-hit ground balls that could have otherwise gotten through.

Hicks may have a case. According to data from Sports Info Solutions, which tracks batters’ performance on ground balls and line drives versus shifts, Hicks has suffered a net loss of 11 potential hits to shifts over the last three seasons, which ranks in the top 12 percent of all hitters during that span.

“I feel like by adding a bunt, being able to use the middle of the field a little bit more, [it] will definitely take away that huge shift on the right side and ultimately give me more chances to get more hits,” said Hicks, who batted .225 with a 121 OPS-plus last season.

Hicks laid down just one bunt attempt over the past two seasons combined, and it did not go for a hit. But he flashed a perfect one last Saturday against the Pirates, dribbling one down the third-base line that stayed fair and hit the bag for an infield single.

“I think it’s one of those things that, if you demonstrate you can do it even once, it’s something that gets on the board with an opposing team and their scouting report,” Boone said. “It all of a sudden makes you have to make a real-time decision about how you’re going to defend, if you’re going to sell out and still move the third baseman. I do think there’s certainly a place for it, especially when you can do it. It’s something we’ve encouraged Aaron to do, and it’s obviously something he’s capable of doing.

“Even if you do it a couple times and you’re successful, it goes a long way in changing how they play you and eventually opening up more of the field.”

As for hitting in the three hole — where he was for 135 of his 211 plate appearances last season — Hicks likes how it suits him.

“I’m super comfortable there,” he said. “I understand what the job needs. I know that I can do both, hit for power and also get on base. In our lineup with the four guys that I’m around, I think that combination is pretty good.”

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