With Tyler Austin suspended for the next four games, a small window of opportunity has opened for Neil Walker to maintain what appears to be his increasingly tenuous spot on the Yankees’ roster.
The 32-year-old Walker is caught in a youth movement. Gleyber Torres is playing second base. Austin and the rehabbing Greg Bird will battle for time at first base. Brandon Drury is coming back from health issues, and general manager Brian Cashman said earlier this week that Drury will not be expendable even with the way Miguel Andujar has hit while filling in for Drury at third base. Ronald Torreyes is a lock as the utility infielder. And the Yankees will need to open a spot for highly paid Jacoby Ellsbury when he returns.
So where does that leave Walker? He entered Friday night with a .172 average, no home runs and three RBIs in 64 at-bats, although he did hit two long drives against the Angels — a shot to the warning track in leftfield and another to rightfield that Kole Calhoun leaped for and caught at the wall, robbing him of a three-run homer. It wound up a sacrifice fly in the Yankees’ 4-3, 10-inning win.
“I haven’t given it much thought because, obviously, I haven’t been playing great,’’ Walker said Thursday at Yankee Stadium before the team headed on a seven-game road trip to Anaheim and Houston. “I’m more focused on trying to right the ship, get my timing and rhythm back. Whatever will be will be.’’
Walker likely will get playing time in the three-game series against the Angels. He needs to get it going.
“Yeah, I hope so,’’ he said. “Rhythm and timing have been coming around slowly. I had a good couple of swings the last game that I played. Hopefully, I can get something going here in Anaheim.’’
The Yankees signed Walker to a one-year deal for $4 million on March 12. On the depth chart, he was below Tyler Wade, who has since been sent to Triple-A.
With the late signing, Walker had an abbreviated spring training.
“I’m not going to go for excuses,’’ he said. “I feel prepared. It’s just taking me, for whatever reason, and there’s no specific reason, it’s just taking me a while to get to a comfortable spot in the box. My thought process is doing whatever I can to help this team. I just haven’t quite got there yet.’’
Walker also didn’t blame past injuries.
“I haven’t had any issues with the back. Last year, obviously, I had the hamstring that knocked me off for a little while with the Mets,” he said. “I’ve been very good.’’
Walker’s baseball fortunes have diminished. A year ago, he was making $17.2 million as the Mets’ starting second baseman. Despite extending that $17.2-million qualifying offer to Walker for the 2017 season, the Mets ultimately decided in spring training that he was not their long-term answer at second. Talks were held regarding an extension, but the Mets seemed to lose interest after Walker’s camp rejected a three-year offer reported at $42 million.
“We had an agreement on the table,’’ Walker said. “I don’t want to get into it because it does me no good, it does them no good.’’
The Mets had no comment.
Walker ultimately became part of the Mets’ sell-off and was sent to the Brewers after the Yankees reportedly showed interest. The switch hitter batted .265 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs between the Mets and Brewers.