strawberry judge

Retired Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry, left, and outfielder Aaron Hicks.

By Brendan Kuty

CINCINNATI — Joe Girardi sat and thought. He didn’t need long.

“We used to have some pretty good problems in the ’90s when (Darryl Strawberry) was on the bench sometimes,” the Yankees manager said. “Tim Rains was on the bench sometimes. … We have that.”

The “that” Girardi was referring to? Aaron Hicks, who continued his surprise mashing in a 10-4 win over the Reds at Great American Ballpark on Monday.

Hicks has been as valuable to the Yankees this season as Strawberry and Raines were to the late-1990s teams that won four World Series rings, Girardi said.

Hicks with 2-for-5 and was hit by a pitch, raising his batting average to .342. He’s got six homers — more than All-Stars such as Kyle Schwarber, Michael Brantley and Andrew McCutchen.

When the Yankees acquired Hicks from the Twins for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy last season, they expected him to mash lefties off the bench while spelling the Yankees’ aging outfield. He was terrible. Hicks hit just .217, unable to figure out how to get used to part-time work.

He came to spring training much sharper this year. Hicks pushed Aaron Judge until just about the last day of spring for the starting right field job. When he lost, Hicks was crushed.

He didn’t let it affect him, though, and he’s continued hitting to the point where Girardi has to find ways to put him in the order.

It hasn’t been hard, Girardi said, since Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been open to sitting occasionally.

“Over the long haul, I really think this is going to help everyone to be fresh,” Girardi said.

Said Gardner, “If you want to look at it this way, Aaron Hicks was our fourth outfielder going into the season and he’s played so well it’s hard to keep him out of the lineup. So it’s just one of those things where he gives Joe more options.”

Options like Strawberry and Raines — outfielders who were integral to the Yankees’ late-1990s dynasty.

“It’s a good problem,” Girardi said.

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