CLEVELAND - The player whom Brian Cashman called "by far" the best pure hitter in the Yankees' system during spring training was promoted Thursday and immediately given a chance to help their suddenly struggling offense.
Lefthanded-hitting first baseman Greg Bird, on Cashman's short list of untouchable prospects at the trade deadline, was called up in the morning and started Thursday night's game at first base for the Yankees.
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"It's a dream come true," said Bird, 22, the 15th Yankee to make his major-league debut this season. "Like I've always said, it's an honor to be a part of this organization and now it's an honor to be a part of this team."
The 6-3, 220-pound Bird had a .301/.353/.500 slash line with six homers and 23 RBIs in 34 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after being promoted from Double-A Trenton. He hit .366 with two homers and 10 RBIs in his previous 10 games before the call-up.
Bird lined out to right and lined out to deep left in his first two at-bats, with Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley making running catches, before flying out to left and striking out twice.
"You hear people use the term professional hitter," Joe Girardi said. "He knows how to hit the ball to all fields, he knows how to drive the ball, he knows how to drive in runs."
The Yankees, who beat the Indians, 8-6, Thursday night to remain a half-game behind the division-leading Blue Jays, had seen their offense collapse in the last week. They had lost five straight games and had scored six runs and gone 26-for-176 (.148) in that span.
Girardi doesn't want Bird -- whom he plans to use to spell Mark Teixeira at first and Alex Rodriguez at DH -- to feel he's solely responsible for sparking the offense. "It's kind of a pretty lofty expectation to put on a young player, that we're expecting you to come put a jolt in our offense," Girardi said. "All offenses go through this."
This skid put the Yankees in second going into the weekend, when they'll again face a team that was among the busiest at the trade deadline, acquiring Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Mark Lowe and Ben Revere.
Since July 28, when the Jays trailed by eight games, they have gone 14-1. The Yankees are 5-9 in the same span.
The Yankees had an interest in big-ticket names such as Price, Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels but Cashman, under the direction of managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, refused to part with any of the club's three top prospects -- righthander Luis Severino, who has looked good in two starts since being called up, Bird and outfielder Aaron Judge.
There was some grumbling among organizational insiders just after the trade deadline about the Yankees standing pat, but that was somewhat muted because the team was playing well. That, to say the least, has changed.
An opposing team scout summarized things this way Thursday: "The Jays addressed their issues. The Yankees did not."