TAMPA, Fla. — Chris Carter was supposed to start Wednesday night at first base but was a late scratch because of an illness. Greg Bird, scheduled to have the night off, was pressed into duty and homered in his first at-bat.
Good luck finding a more perfect synopsis of each player’s spring training. Bird stayed hot, while it’s safe to start wondering exactly when Carter, signed to a one-year, $3.5-million deal just before camp, will get onto the field.
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Carter, 30, never has been considered a strong fielder but is coming off a year in which he was the National League’s co-leader with 41 homers. He is 4-for-25 (.160) with one homer in 11 games.
Bird, 24, after going 2-for-3, has a .452/.514/1.065 slash line with four homers, five doubles and six RBIs in 13 games.
“Birdie’s swung the bat really well,” Joe Girardi said. “He has a very good swing path, you don’t see him out front a lot, and he has very good pitch recognition as well.”
Carter was signed as insurance for Bird, a relative unknown who played well in limited action in 2015 before losing all of 2016 as he recovered from shoulder surgery. The thought was, at the very least, that Carter would platoon with the lefthanded-hitting Bird against lefty starters, but that no longer seems a guarantee.
Bird hit a solo homer off righthander Clay Buchholz in the second inning, on a 1-and-2 changeup.
“I think he’s pretty mature for his age, his at-bats are really good,” Girardi said before the game. “He’s going to play against every righthander, and I think part of it is you see how he’s doing against lefthanders. And part of it is how Chris is doing, too. It will be an interesting balance.”
A balance that more than a few opposing team scouts said shouldn’t even be a consideration.
“Why tell a kid he can’t hit lefties?” one NL scout said. “Maybe he can, maybe he can’t, but for me, with that swing and that approach, I’m putting him out there until I find out for sure.”
Scouts who saw Bird in the minors typically hit on a familiar theme, as have those who have seen him this spring training: He rarely wastes at-bats.
“Always ready to hit, very good hand-eye coordination, and he knows the strike zone,” an AL scout said. “That’s a pretty good trifecta.”
Buchholz, the former Red Sox, said he left a changeup “up,” but came away impressed nonetheless.
“He was still a little out in front, but he’s a big, strong dude, and when they put the barrel on it, it’s going to go,” Buchholz said. He added with a laugh: “That would have really been way back in Yankee Stadium, so I’m glad it was here.”
Gary Sanchez, himself having a pretty good spring — .387, four homers, 11 RBIs — came up through the minors with Bird.
“I’m seeing the same exact player that I’ve always seen, so I’m not surprised at all,” Sanchez said through his translator. “He’s a really good player.”