PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Greg Bird flew to New York on Sunday afternoon for a Monday appointment with the surgeon who operated on his right foot last season.
He, and the Yankees, can only hope for the best.
“[We’re] at least a little bit optimistic, based on the pictures, but [Monday] should tell us a lot as far as what it is time-wise, all those kinds of things,” manager Aaron Boone said Sunday before the Yankees’ 11-1 loss to the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. “Hopefully we’ll get some good answers.”
Bird will see orthopedic specialist Dr. Martin O’Malley on Monday. He was scratched from Saturday’s split-squad game in Kissimmee against the Braves with soreness in the same area of his right foot that required surgery last season, a situation that prompted general manager Brian Cashman to say: “I’m worried about it, to be honest.”
The Yankees announced early Saturday night that a CT scan and MRI showed “right foot inflammation” but no structural damage, the reason for Boone’s cautious optimism.
“Just some inflammation in there,” he said. “I guess all things considered, we felt like it was good.”
Is there a chance Bird could be ready for the season opener Thursday in Toronto?
“I don’t know,” Boone said. “I think [Monday] we’ll have that answer.”
Bird entered Saturday hitting .154 with a .267 on-base percentage and one homer in 18 games in spring training. Indications were that he was healthy, though Cashman said an issue came up toward the end of Friday’s game against the Red Sox.
“He said as he ramped up baseball activities to nine innings, it started to rear its ugly head,” Cashman said.
Boone said Sunday that in retrospect, it’s possible Bird’s struggles could have been a result of discomfort in the foot.
“If you’re not as strong as you should be on your front, it could [affect] you a little bit mechanically,” Boone said. “I think that’s a possibility.”
If Bird starts the season on the disabled list, the righthanded-hitting Tyler Austin, optioned to the minor leagues last week, is likely to be added to the 25-man roster.
“I’m really comfortable at first base,” said Austin, who hit .238 with a .333 slugging percentage in spring training and has played 35 big-league games at first. “I’ve worked my butt off the last couple of years to get better over there.”
Switch-hitting second baseman Neil Walker, who has played 17 career games at first, also will see time there.
“I wouldn’t say necessarily straight platoon. We’ll still match it up,” Boone said of Austin vs. Walker at first. “I would say there would be a good chance that Tyler would be in there Opening Day, possibly, against a lefty [Toronto’s J.A. Happ]. But . . . that’s if Bird’s out and Tyler’s on our team.”
Backup catcher Austin Romine also could be an option in a pinch. Third-base prospect Miguel Andujar, a solid hitter who was named the most outstanding Yankees rookie in spring training, started getting some reps at first in minor-league camp before Bird’s injury.
“Sometimes it’s a war of attrition,” Boone said. “In major-league sports, you’ve got to have depth because you can get clipped by the injury bug at some point. We feel like we’re equipped to handle it.”
Which isn’t to say Boone doesn’t feel for Bird, who has been limited to 94 games the last two seasons cause of injury.
“[Bird] was frustrated, obviously,” Boone said. “As I’ve mentioned, we feel like him [not] being able to post and go out there on an everyday basis is the only thing keeping him from being a premium-type player. I’m sure he was trying to grind through something. I do, yes, I feel for him. But hopefully it’s a short-term thing and it’s just a little bump in the road to start here.”