Yankees rookie Ben Rice hits 1st big league homer after being moved into leadoff spot

NEW YORK (AP) — Ben Rice had fantasized about his first major league home run, and then he hit a drive into the Judge’s Chambers in Yankee Stadium’s right-field seats.

“It’s way cooler to actually do it than just dream about it,” he said after his fifth-inning shot off Frankie Montas on Thursday in New York’s 8-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

A 25-year-old who made his big league debut on June 18, Rice was moved up to the leadoff spot 15 games into his career when slumping Anthony Volpe was dropped to sixth in the batting order.

Rice went 1 for 5 with two strikeouts. He is batting .262 with three doubles and five RBIs.

Volpe was in an 0-for-18 slide before his two-run double in the seventh inning during Wednesday night’s 3-2 loss. He is hitting .200 with four walks since May 30, dropping his season average from .288 to .253 and leaving fewer opportunities for All-Star sluggers Juan Soto and Aaron Judge to drive in runs.

“It’s just a critical spot right now ahead of what Juan and what Aaron are doing there,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Want to try and just in a lot of ways kind of get the hottest guy that’s getting on base in front of them and taking advantage of that.”

New York has lost 13 of its last 17 games and is 0-5-1 in its past six series.

Rice’s 407-foot drive was caught by the VanDerVolgen family from the Albany area, a group of six that had been upgraded from the second deck just before the game. They exchanged the home run ball for balls Rice autographed in the clubhouse.

“Finally got that first one out of the way, so I was thrilled,” Rice said.

Rice batted leadoff in 13 games this year for Double-A Somerset, the last on May 28. He hit .245 (13 for 53) with five solo homers, six walks and 17 strikeouts.

“The approach is always the same, so it doesn’t really affect anything,” Rice said.

Volpe hit leadoff in 76 of the first 88 games. He replaced Gleyber Torres atop the order on April 10.

“I just wanted to shake it up a little bit and give Volpe a blow from that spot. Doesn’t mean (he) won’t go back in there,” Boone said. “Just trying to optimize that spot and getting guys on base in front of the big boys.”

Rice is hitting .345 (9 for 29) with three doubles and five RBIs against right-handers and .083 (1 for 13) with no RBIs against left-handers. He began the season at Double-A, was promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on June 5 and then to the Yankees two weeks later after first baseman Anthony Rizzo broke a forearm.

Volpe batted .206 with 21 homers and 60 RBIs as a rookie last year. While his average has increased this season, his home runs have dropped to six. Volpe’s groundball rate has risen to 51.8% from 41% and his flyball rate has fallen to 25.9% from 37.1%. His flyball rate was 52.5% at Scranton in 2022.

“He clearly made some swing adjustments and changes, alterations in the offseason,” Boone said. “We’re talking about a 22-year-old guy that’s adjusting, growing, learning, and I feel like this is kind of all part of the process of him getting to be a more complete product.”

New York also has struggled in the cleanup spot behind Soto and Judge, hitting .210 (29th) with a .268 on-base percentage (30th) and .600 OPS (30th).


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