CLEVELAND — Aaron Boone answered quickly and emphatically.
What kind of impact, the Yankees manager was asked, could Greg Bird have on his lineup if he finally gets going?
“Huge,” Boone said.
Bird, who has been inconsistent at the plate since coming off the disabled list May 26, finally appears to be taking off.
Bird entered Thursday with unimpressive overall numbers — a .208/.324/.440 slash line, seven homers and 18 RBIs in 38 games — but with at least one hit in eight of his last 10 games.
He had four RBIs in each of his previous two games, including his first career grand slam in Wednesday’s victory in Baltimore and a three-run shot Tuesday against the Orioles. Bird made it 10 RBIs in three games with a run-scoring double off Corey Kluber and a sacrifice fly off lefthander Oliver Perez on Thursday night in the Yankees’ 7-4 victory over the Indians.
“It’s little things,” Bird said. “Finding the little positives in each day. I feel like gradually it’s coming. It’s just been [slow]. I can feel it on a swing here or there, and it’s just been better.”
And at times potent.
Though he doesn’t have a lot of hits, he’s made them count. Of Bird’s 26 hits entering Thursday, 14 went for extra bases.
“When he’s right, we really believe he’s that on-base power presence from the left side, and in our ballpark, him playing well is a big deal for us,” Boone said. “Hopefully we’re starting to see him get a little bit settled in and having some impact at-bats for us.”
Boone always stresses “strike zone discipline” with his hitters, something he believes Bird has done for the most part, whether the results have been there or not.
“I’ve felt like the at-bat quality’s been OK all along,” Boone said. “I feel like it’s gotten a lot better in the last week and we’re starting to see him . . . I think at-bat to at-bat, getting himself in a better position to really impact the ball. Obviously a couple of big home runs the last couple of days.”
On the grand slam, Bird fouled off four straight two-strike pitches from righthander Dylan Bundy — a fastball, slider, changeup and fastball — before driving a 2-and-2 curveball off the rightfield foul pole.
“I’ve been more consistent,” said Bird, who as recently as June 27 was hitting .191 with a .308 on-base percentage. “I’ve preached that. You’ve got to be consistent and you have to hit mistakes.”
Boone said Bird’s discipline at the plate got him some mistakes to hit during his struggles, but he just wasn’t connecting with them.
“Most of the time, I feel like he’s controlled the strike zone pretty well,” Boone said. “Now when he’s getting a pitch, we’re starting to see him impact it. I felt like for a time when he was going through [his difficulties], he was having some decent at-bats, but when he got a pitch he could do some damage with, it might be a fly ball or a hard-hit ball [at someone] or something like that. Now he’s getting in some deep counts and really making the pitcher work, really controlling the strike zone and a couple of big swings, which is huge for him and huge for us. Because when he’s right, his on-base power element is really important.”
Bird, however, isn’t ready to make any declarations about a handful of games portending a prolonged hot streak.
Much like Sonny Gray — who downplayed his six shutout innings Wednesday, saying “It’s one start” — Bird is taking it day-by-day.
“I just play,” he said. “I show up every day and I play. I prepare and I put in the work and I play.”