PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — It’s game on in what will be by far the most interesting, and most watched, competition of Yankees spring training.
On Saturday, Greg Bird roped a pair of hits, including a double, in two at-bats in the exhibition opener. Luke Voit had his turn Sunday and went 2-for-3 with four RBIs in an 8-5 victory over the Rays.
That included a monstrous three-run homer off righthander Ryne Stanek in the fourth inning on a fastball that arrived at 96 mph and departed much more quickly to left-center.
In his first at-bat of spring training, the 6-3, 225-pound Voit lined a 97-mph fastball from righty Tyler Glasnow to rightfield for an RBI single.
“Good start for him,” Aaron Boone said.
Voit, considered the front-runner for the first-base job after his impressive power display late last year, has resolved to demonstrate that wasn’t “a fluke.”
The hulking Voit, built like a linebacker, was a phenomenon after the Yankees acquired him in an under-the-radar trade before last year’s deadline. He hit .357 with an 1.196 OPS and 14 homers in 115 at-bats from Aug. 22 on.
There has been plenty of talk about how motivated and determined Bird was entering spring training, but Voit showed up just as determined and motivated. He did not spend the offseason congratulating himself on the work he did after taking the starting job from Bird last August.
“I feel like everyone thinks last year was a fluke probably,” Voit said after coming out of Sunday’s game. “But I’m not going to let anyone else control [what I think of myself]. I’m going to do what I can do to get the job done and be the first baseman for the Yankees.”
It’s an attitude Boone picked up on almost immediately when he spoke with Voit in the offseason.
“Luke wants to be really good at this game,” Boone said. “I think we all saw him really kind of fall in love with being a Yankee, and I think he went home on a mission to make sure he comes in and is prepared and wanting to show the world that he is the guy we saw last year.”
It’s difficult to find a talent evaluator, including Boone, who doesn’t think Bird is the better defender. Voit worked on that part of his game in the offseason, including a visit to the club’s minor-league complex in Tampa in early December to work with infield coach Carlos Mendoza.
Voit looked sharp in the first inning, cleanly scooping Austin Meadows’ one-hop smash and making the unassisted play.
“We have these iPads, and [Mendoza] sent me a bunch of information on drills that I could do throughout the offseason to work on my timing, work on different moves to make the right step so I could get to those balls three or four more feet to my left or right,” Voit said. “It was great to have that. I never really took my defense that serious. I was always hitting. Now it’s something I want to match 50-50.
“My goal this year is to win a World Series, but also to make my defense night and day. I want to win a Gold Glove. That’s kind of my mindset.”
As is all but ignoring the offseason proclamations of general manager Brian Cashman and Boone, who both said all winter that Voit had “a leg up” on Bird going into spring training.
“I’m trying to do what I did last year and prove to everyone it wasn’t a fluke,” said Voit, again using that word. “It’s nice to have Cash and Boone to have your back like that, which gives me a lot of confidence. But I just have to take it day by day and try to get better.”