TAMPA — Nothing in Greg Bird’s batting practice Saturday morning indicated the first baseman was already scratched for the afternoon game against the Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Bird sent balls into the deep part of the right-field seats and not one swing looked awkward. Yes, it was only BP, which is never to be confused with pitches hitters see in games. However, if Bird’s right elbow was barking, it didn’t show.
According to Aaron Boone, Bird’s elbow, where he was hit with a pitch Wednesday, was OK and it was the manager’s decision to hold him out.
“Bird is fine. I decided one more day and he will play [Sunday],’’ Boone said. “He took BP and felt good. It is nothing more than me saying I want to wait one more day.’’
Boone usually doesn’t meet with the media until after day games at home. Nevertheless, he wanted to get ahead of the speculation that Bird, who has suffered right ankle injuries in the final two weeks of the past two spring trainings that required surgery, was hurt again.
“I just decided I would rather have all the swelling out and not be an issue,’’ Boone said of Bird, who hasn’t played since Wednesday.
Friday night, Bird flexed both arms when asked if the swelling was entirely gone to show that it wasn’t.
Luke Voit and Bird were involved in the only real position competition when camp opened. After solid springs by each, Aaron Hicks opening the season on the IL and nobody knowing exactly when the switch-hitting center fielder will return from a lower back problem, there is room for two first basemen, who can also serve as a designated hitter.
Voit, who wasn’t in the lineup Saturday, and Bird will make the two-hour trek to Fort Myers on Sunday to play in the Yankees’ final exhibition game in Florida. The Yankees are scheduled to face the Nationals in Washington on Monday night, but rain is forecast and could wash out the game.
When camp opened, GM Brian Cashman said Voit, based on what he did last year when he hit .333 with 14 homers and 33 RBIs in 39 games, had the first-base job to lose. Nevertheless, had Hicks not gotten hurt the Yankees would have had a very difficult decision to make.
Bird is hitting .333 (13-for-39) with three homers and eight RBIs in 17 spring games. Voit is at .293 (12-for-41) with four homers and a dozen RBIs in 15 games.