Neil Walker hadn’t played since June 4 when manager Aaron Boone penciled him into the lineup at third base against the Nationals on Tuesday night.
Walker, who signed with the Yankees late in spring training, is used to being a regular. He’s not used to coming off the bench. Or, in the past week-plus, staying on the bench.
But he’s doing his best to get used to it.
“It certainly has been an adjustment,” Walker said. “I’m trying to figure out the ways — whether it’s two days off or four days or in some cases more than a week — just figure out ways to keep sharp when I do get opportunities to get in there. I think the biggest challenge is just the timing part of not playing every day. That’s something that I haven’t been used to.”
How does Walker stay sharp at the plate and in the field when he’s not playing? Let him count the ways.
“Seeing balls off the ol’ pitching machine at high velocity,” he said. “Early ground ball work. Timing mechanisms when guys throw bullpens. Those can help.”
Walker’s tactics paid off in his first at-bat when he lined a single off the glove of second baseman Wilmer Difo. That helped the Yankees build a second-inning run when Austin Romine followed with a sacrifice fly to give CC Sabathia a 2-0 lead.
Walker also hit a long drive in the fourth that centerfielder Michael A. Taylor caught with a slide on the warning track. The spectacular grab robbed Walker of a double or maybe even a triple.
Boone started Walker to give rookie Miguel Andujar a day off and also because the veteran came in 5-for-14 (.357) against Nationals starter Tanner Roark. Walker went 1-for-3 against the righthander on Tuesday.
Boone said he plans to get Walker “fairly regular at-bats” going forward. He admitted it’s been a struggle to do that since Andujar and Gleyber Torres have been performing so well.
“No question,” Boone said. “But I also feel like over the course of the season there’s going to be a lot of opportunities. There’s going to be spots for Walk and hopefully on this homestand where he gets a game at third, he gets a game at second, maybe first, maybe a DH day.”
Walker said he’s gotten advice on how to be a bench player from his brother-in-law, former major-leaguer Don Kelly, who played in 584 games in a nine-year career (mostly with Detroit) from 2007-2016.
“He’s did it very, very well in his career,” said Walker, who is trying to do the same at this new stage of his career.