Bird closer to Yankee return as Judge struggles in No. 3 spot

DETROIT — Greg Bird should get his chance to prove himself soon enough.

Maybe they’re only minor-league rehab hits with Triple-A Scranton, but the fact that the 24-year-old first baseman is finally driving the ball again is an encouraging sign.

Bird, who underwent right ankle surgery a little more than a month ago, has drilled a pair of homers while also delivering a double and a single in his previous two games before getting a day off Sunday.

He will resume his stint at first for the RailRiders on Monday in Rochester — which just so happens to be a 1-hour, 10-minute flight from Detroit, where the Yankees will play from Tuesday-Thursday. There is no exact date for Bird’s return, though it seems reasonable to wonder if this week could be a possibility.

Remember, Yankees officials were concerned that Bird wasn’t driving the ball in his previous minor-league rehab stint in early July. That led to another shutdown, and two weeks later he underwent the procedure. It appears to have helped.

Back in February and March, Bird was the most productive hitter in baseball during the spring, hitting .451 with eight homers. But then he fouled that ball off his ankle on March 30 in Clearwater, leading to a 6-for-60, one-homer start to the season and a stint on the disabled list that has had him sidelined since May 2.

Bird, of course, opened the year as the team’s No. 3 hitter on Opening Day — a spot that Aaron Judge moved into in early June during his MVP-caliber first half.

Aaron Judge.

Aaron Judge.

(Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

But the 25-year-old slugger’s second half has been abysmal, as he’s hitting .169/.329/.355 in 35 games while fouling hittable pitches back over the screen instead of over the wall. Over that span, Judge is 4-for-28 with runners in scoring position, 3-for-40 against the Red Sox (with no homers or RBIs) and 1-for-32 against lefties. He has struck out in an MLB-record 37 consecutive games.

Joe Girardi has said the plan is to keep Judge in the No. 3 hole when the Yankees open up their series with the Tigers. But as the Daily News’ John Harper wrote on Sunday, Girardi’s best move would be to drop Judge down in the order, perhaps to the No. 6 spot.

A combination of Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius and maybe Todd Frazier or Chase Headley would hit in the No. 3-5 spots before Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks — even if it’s only in the short-term until Judge figures things out. Because whether it’s mechanical, mental, the league adjusting or perhaps injury-related (he was wearing that massive ice wrap on his left shoulder, which he’s been doing, though he claims it’s not affecting him), Judge could use a change.

The Yankees went after Lucas Duda, Jay Bruce and Neil Walker from the Mets, hoping to bolster the middle of their order, but it didn’t work out. Bruce, by the way, is hitting .375/.444/.725 in 11 games for Cleveland.

Meanwhile, the Bombers have gone from averaging 5.4 runs per game in the first half to 4.1 runs in the second half. The losses of Starlin Castro (hamstring) and Matt Holliday (back) to injury certainly haven’t helped in that regard, as well. Both Castro and Holliday are also in the midst of minor-league rehab stints at Triple-A Scranton and Class-A Tampa.

Bird likely wouldn’t just come back and move right into the No. 3 hole after missing what is essentially almost two years due to injury. But Brian Cashman still holds him in the highest regard. And if he can continue to show life in his bat, Bird could possibly reclaim his Opening Day spot — especially with Judge in a second-half funk that simply won’t end.

Tags:
greg bird
new york yankees
detroit
michigan
gary sanchez
neil walker
brian cashman

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