TAMPA, Fla. — In the blunt way he sometimes can put things, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made it clear earlier this month how he sees first base in 2017.
Speaking Sept. 6, Cashman said lefthanded-hitting Greg Bird, out this season after surgery to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder, will compete for the job with righthanded-hitting Tyler Austin, who has made a positive impression since his mid-August call-up, next spring training.
“May the best man win,” Cashman said.
Which is fine with Bird, who never has been under the impression that the job simply will be handed to him.
“That’s how baseball works. We’re all fighting for a job,” Bird said after a late-morning workout Monday at the club’s minor- league complex. “The best players play, so it will make both of us better, and that’s what we want, we want a team full of good players. That’s how we’re going to win games.”
When last season ended, many Yankees fans had visions of Bird pushing Mark Teixeira, in the final year of his eight-year contract, for playing time in 2016 and inheriting the position in 2017.
Bird showed himself to be a quick study as a rookie call-up in August 2015, both in the field and at the plate. He posted a .261/.343/.529 slash line with 11 homers in 157 at-bats.
But Bird was not healthy. He battled shoulder issues most of 2015 and missed nearly a month earlier that season. They never fully went away and eventually surgery was recommended for early February 2016.
For Bird, who went through a complete workout Monday that included running, throwing and batting practice outside, it has been a slow grind back. He’ll partake in live BP sessions next week and could appear in some Instructional League games the week after that. He is slated to play in the Arizona Fall League, which starts Oct. 11.
“It’s been hard the whole time,” said Bird, who turns 24 Nov. 9. “Early on, it didn’t feel like you were working toward anything. Once I got on the field, I guess that was closer, but it still sets in. ‘I only threw today. I still have a ways to go.’ ”
Bird said the shoulder is “still sore,” but not in a negative sense. “Using it again is sore,’’ he said. “As far as hurt goes, it doesn’t hurt.”
And it feels as good as ever.
“As far as the ability of the shoulder, it’s night and day. It’s unbelievable to me how different it feels in a good way [compared to 2015],” Bird said. “It’s stronger than it was as [now] it’s structurally sound. It’s still about working out little bumps and bruises. There’s scar tissue to break up and the endurance part is big. That’s the biggest thing. You’re strong, structurally everything’s good. Now it’s about building up that everyday endurance.”
Notes & quotes: The Yankees will honor Teixeira, who plans to retire at season’s end, in a ceremony before their final home game Oct. 2 against the Orioles . . . Aaron Hicks, on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain, worked out at the minor-league complex Monday morning and expects to rejoin the Yankees at some point during the three-game series against the Rays that starts Tuesday night . . . Among those at the complex Monday for the first day of Instructional League workouts was outfielder Blake Rutherford, the Yankees’ first-round draft pick (18th overall) in June. Rutherford, 19, had a .351/.415/.570 slash line in a combined 33 games between two rookie league clubs before being shut down with a mild left hamstring strain. “I’m 100 percent,” he said. “I took a lot of time to get it right. Put a lot of time in to get it right and I feel really good right now.”