CLEARWATER, Fla. — This much can be said regarding the neck-and-neck competition for the job as the Yankees’ first baseman:
First, a decision isn’t coming soon. There has been little separation in the spring training performances of Greg Bird and Luke Voit, who entered the competition as the favorite.
And second, despite some speculation to the contrary, the loser of the competition will be headed for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at the beginning of the season.
“It is tough for me to envision us having two first basemen,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Especially when I feel like [DJ] LeMahieu would get some backup reps there.”
Boone spoke late Thursday morning before the Yankees’ 6-0 victory over the Phillies at Spectrum Field, a game in which Voit and Bird were in the lineup.
Voit, 28, who started at first base, went 0-for-1 with two walks. He is hitting .286 with a 1.126 OPS.
Bird, 26, who served as the DH, went 1-for-3 with a walk. He is hitting .389 with a 1.222 OPS.
“I don’t want to say we’re going to go one way a week out or say [it will be] down to the wire,” Boone said of a timetable for determining a winner. “I guess in a perfect world, it becomes clear. The reality is it might not because we’ve got two players that are looking the part in a big way right now.”
Both players have options and are aware that one of them will end spring training disappointed and minor league- bound. But they get it.
“That’s just how the game is,” said the righthanded-hitting Voit, who came to the Yankees from the Cardinals last season before the trade deadline. “Playing in the National League, they want versatility now, and that’s a big part of it. Obviously, me and Greg both are first base/DH kind of guys, so I understand.”
Voit spent the offseason working on his defense and scouts have noticed a difference, though not so much Thursday, because he had only one ball hit to him. It was a routine chopper off the bat of Andrew Romine that Voit gloved cleanly and stepped on the bag to end the fourth.
“He’s moving much, much better than he used to [with the Cardinals’ organization],” one American League scout said. “He looks fine out there. Good enough, anyway.”
Bird has cooled a bit after a red-hot start, but the Yankees, as well as opposing team talent evaluators, have taken note of the consistent quality of his at-bats.
“Birdie’s at-bats have been terrific,” Boone said before the game. “Again, I keep saying each day what a different guy he looks like this year. You feel he’s going to impact [the ball].”
Although Bird would give the Yankees a lefthanded-hitting presence in a lineup stocked with righthanded hitters, Boone and general manager Brian Cashman have said that won’t be a factor in the decision. Besides, Voit hit eight homers and produced a 1.015 OPS against righthanders last season compared with seven homers and a 1.169 OPS vs. lefthanders.
“Just kind of excited where they both are, because I feel we have two impact players that are part of our organization right now,” Boone said.
Bird’s Yankees career has been mostly about potential and his inability to stay healthy. Voit hit 14 home runs in 114 at-bats after taking the everyday first-base duties from him on Aug. 24 last season.
Bird, a fifth-round pick of the Yankees in 2011, is embracing the competition.
“It’s two good players, so it’s nice,” Bird said. “It’s fun, it’s competitive. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That makes teams better.”