By Ernie Palladino
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Moon-shot home runs?
Third-best record in baseball?
Lots of fun.
Not so much.
Get the drift here? It’s a lot of fun to be a young Yankee these days, unless your name is Greg Bird. He just went on the 10-day disabled list Tuesday with a bruised right ankle that has kept him from joining the rest of the kiddie party that comprises a large slice of this year’s Bombers.
It’s basically a stashing, a choice between the lesser of three possibilities. They could have kept him around until he shook a prolonged slump that stretched back to opening day; shipped him off to the minors until his swing regained its fence-assaulting nature; or throw him on the DL.
Joe Girardi made the easier of the choices. Bird now gets the same benefit as a minor-league assignment without the embarrassment. He gets some necessary time to step away from his troubles, make an adjustment or two, and join the fun on a team that has retaken the imagination of New Yorkers, thanks to Aaron Judge’s gargantuan home runs, the resurrection of Chase Headley into a real ballplayer, and the bench play of Aaron Hicks, just to name a few factors.
With catcher Gary Sanchez expected back by week’s end from his partially torn biceps, Bird’s replacement, Rob Refsnyder, will be easy enough to send down.
There just hasn’t been lot of disappointments in the 16-9 start. There’s Bird. Throw Brett Gardner and his .208 batting average heading into Tuesday in there, too, if you must (Gardner went 3-for-5 with two homers in the Bombers’ 11-5 win over Toronto, upping his average to .232). But Bird was the one youngster Girardi expected to rely on.
He remained grounded through April.
That’s been a downer, the only real big one in a shockingly good start.
This was more than a glitch. Folks expected those, certainly. Luis Severino has obliged as he continues his search for his footing as a starter. Monday’s five-run, five-inning beat-down at the hands of the Blue Jays was anything but pretty.
But one could easily put that imperfection aside, especially when considering the team’s lofty spot in the standings and the more surprising popularity due to the long-ball excitement Judge and company have generated.
Bird stood as the only major disappointment. He was supposed to be one of Girardi’s leaders because of the 46 games he played in 2015 before he sacrificed last year to shoulder surgery. Judge and his free-swinging past was supposed to be the question mark.
Instead, Judge and his 12 home runs and 25 RBI has headed up the Yankees’ hit parade. Bird remained grounded, and inside the ballpark save for his one homer. He had three RBI, and a measly .100 (6-for-60) BA in 19 games.
Girardi had continued to believe in Bird until he saw something unsettling in his swing Monday. He had good reason, too, as Bird had drawn 10 walks. That indicated a positive level of selectivity. Girardi said he hadn’t chased a lot of pitches. A number of at-bats went as hard-hit outs.
While not the definition of somebody totally clueless at the plate, such futility obviously wore on Bird’s confidence. When Girardi noticed a lack of explosion in Bird’s legs during Monday’s 0-for-4 outing, he decided Bird needed an extended rest.
Bird won’t do anything for the next week to 10 days. After that, he’ll be re-evaluated.
Until he returns, the Yanks’ outlook appears bright enough.
Didi Gregorius is back, though Jacoby Ellsbury also could be heading for the DL with a bruised left elbow nerve. Sanchez began a minor league rehab assignment with a bang Tuesday, homering on the first pitch he saw, and could return sooner than expected if Austin Romine’s cramped right groin doesn’t get better by Wednesday night.
Romine had a career high five RBI in a 12-4 win against the Orioles Saturday. Judge, who never seems to hit a fly ball that doesn’t travel at least 400 feet, recently drew a Derek Jeter comparison from Girardi. Despite being benched Monday to contemplate a 6-for-34 (.176) slump over his last eight games, Headley has overall looked like a competent hitter, putting up seven doubles, three homers, eight RBI, and a .301 average.
Because of those factors and some strong pitching performances, Bird’s struggles haven’t had a disastrous effect on the Yanks.
Now that he is going away for a week or two, it makes one wonder just how potent the Yanks can get once he returns healed, rested, and hopefully rejuvenated.
That could be a lot of fun.
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