SARASOTA, Fla. — Greg Bird’s sweet swing was on display Monday at Ed Smith Stadium. It cut through the late February heat for two doubles, giving the Yankees an early indication the first baseman will be able to shrug off missing all of last season due to right shoulder surgery.
While the shoulder seemed fine, the mental side of Bird’s game needed to be sharper. He was thrown out at third base twice in six innings on infield ground balls.
“Bad reads, plain and simple,’’ Bird said after the Yankees topped the Orioles, 4-1. “I got out there and didn’t go with my gut. We’ll work on it a little bit, and we’ll smooth it out.’’
That work begins early Tuesday morning on a back field at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, with Joe Girardi supervising drills designed to produce better results than Monday.
“Topper [bench coach Rob Thomson] said, ‘Field 4 tomorrow,’ ” Bird said of the reaction in the dugout after getting thrown out at third on Aaron Judge’s check-swing grounder back to the mound in the sixth. “Obviously I take pride in that, so I have to be better than that.’’
Bird doubled with one out in the first inning and tried to advance to third on Judge’s grounder to short, which violated the first rule of baserunning when on second base: Make sure the ball goes through on the left side before running to third base.
With more than a month to work on Bird’s baserunning, Girardi wasn’t upset with the mistakes that were balanced by the two doubles to right.
“He has to adjust his reads a little bit,’’ Girardi said. “I told him if he hit triples he doesn’t have to make that read.’’
The biggest thing the Yankees want to find out this spring is if the year away will affect the first baseman. His swing looked smooth Monday with enough strength to drive the ball.
“It was good to see him swing the bat because that’s really important,’’ Girardi said.
Girardi didn’t look past Bird’s baserunning blunders, but he did view the whole picture instead of one side.
“You try to weigh the good he did today against the mistakes,’’ Girardi said. “He hasn’t played a lot, and I don’t know how much that had to contribute to him making baserunning mistakes, but those are things we have to clean up.’’
Bird explained his timing Monday was better than it had been in his previous two games, in which he had three hitless at-bats.
“I just want quality at-bats and hit the ball hard,’’ said Bird, who possesses a swing made for Yankee Stadium’s cozy dimensions in right field. “I thought my timing was a little bit late the first two days.”
When Bird filled in for Mark Teixeira in 2015, he provided a glimpse of what life after Teixeira could be by hitting .261 with 11 homers, 31 RBIs and an .872 OPS. After right labrum surgery cost Bird all of 2016, the Yankees are looking for the 24-year-old to be healthy enough to help carry a lineup that lost Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Alex Rodriguez and Teixeira from last year.
Baserunning mistakes aside, the Yankees need Bird’s bat far more than his wheels because it should be easier to fix those mistakes.
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