Aaron Hicks’ hitting struggles continue for Yankees against Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Aaron Hicks’ nightmarish season continued on Sunday, but not in the way you might imagine.

The plummeting center fielder again went hitless, but in back-to-back RBI situations, Hicks hit the ball hard and still went empty.

He first lined up in third with two points and no one in sixth, then had more bad luck in eighth.

With the Yankees trailing two runs and Gleyber Torres at third, Hicks hit a howler in the middle, but Taylor Walls, playing second base, made a terrific diving game and pitched to first for the final.

“It was a great at-bat and a great game,” Aaron Boone said.

It was the latest in a series of tough games for Hicks, who has missed a lot of time in recent seasons due to various injuries.

Aaron Hicks, reacting after striking against the Tigers, saw his struggles continue in the Yankees’ loss to Tampa on Sunday.

And though he was healthy this season until he was sidelined by right hamstring strain, batting coach Dillon Lawson said he thought the lack of plate appearances since 2018 continued to make an impact.

“He’s trying to get back to normal after being inside and outside [of the lineup] over the last few years for one reason or another,” Lawson said. “Things change even when you don’t want them to. Your normal looks different than it did before. We are trying to bring him back to where he was before.

It’s been a long time coming.

After finishing with a .627 OPS last season before being shut down with a torn wrist sheath, Hicks entered Sunday with a .577 OPS on the season with just two more hits.

And he was just 14 for 87 with a brace, four RBIs, 14 walks and 27 strikeouts in his previous 29 games.

“We look back at what made him, him,” Lawson said. “When he was hitting .270 with 25 homers and we’re trying to get him back to that.”

Lately, Boone said he’s seen Hicks stray from his usual approach.

“I feel like he’s rushed in certain situations,” Boone said before the game. “Controlling the strike zone has been a feature of his career and sometimes [recently], he tried to chase that shot down a bit. This can get you in trouble as a hitter. Sometimes you want it so badly that you start playing into the pitcher’s hands.

Hicks had two multi-hit games in his previous four starts heading into Sunday.

“The last two days before he sat down, we felt like he was improving,” Lawson said. “There’s plenty to be excited about.”

He was more productive as a right-handed hitter, with .758 OPS in 42 plate appearances, but only .501 in 99 plate appearances on the left side.

Battling as a right-hander against southpaw Shane McClanahan on Sunday, Hicks flew to the right and struck out before firing two and no one in the sixth.

He spun on a pitch, but lined it up until third.

Overall, Hicks hits the ball less in the air than ever before, and his exit speed is down slightly.

“He has an expectation for himself and when he doesn’t meet that he takes it personally,” Lawson said. “He will continue to work. A lot of people would shut down and drop out, but he spends so much time in the video room reviewing pre-game information. He does extra sessions in the cage to make sure he can feel good as soon as possible.

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