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After nearly two years away, Yankees' Troy Tulowitzki needs time to find his timing at the plate

The Yankees' Troy Tulowitzki celebrates in the dugout

The Yankees' Troy Tulowitzki celebrates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run in the first inning during a spring training game against the Blue Jays on Feb. 25 in Tampa, Fla. Photo Credit: AP/Lynne Sladky

Troy Tulowitzki homered in his first at-bat of spring training. He homered again in his second game of spring training. But after missing a year and a half because of injuries, the five-time All-Star shortstop knew it wasn’t going to be that easy, and so did the Yankees.

After going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the Yankees’ 6-5 victory over the Pirates on Sunday, Tulowitzki is batting .176 (3-for-17) and has struck out nine times.

On the positive side, Tulowitzki was able to play seven full innings on Sunday. That’s no small feat for a 34-year-old who hasn’t played in a major-league game since July 2017 because of bone spurs in both heels that required surgery.

The Yankees would like Tulowitzki to be their semi-regular shortstop and hold the position down until Didi Gregorius returns from Tommy John surgery. They are willing to be patient as Tulowitzki works on his stamina and timing.

“He’ll get there timing-wise, I’m convinced of that,” manager Aaron Boone said. “But that’s what it is. It’s finding that timing again. The one thing I like is that he’s not just going up there and rushing and touching. He’s trying to find his timing and get himself on time, and even over the last few days, I feel like he’s had a lot of good swings, on balance. He’s fouled some pitches back. But that’s a timing thing that eventually I feel like he’ll start to get results there. It’s just — he needs reps now is all.”

With the Yankees off on Monday, Tulowitzki’s next chance for reps will come when the Orioles visit Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday night. That’s if he doesn’t sneak into the complex on his own for some extra work.

“He’s another one of those gym rats,” Boone said. “He’s in the cage all the time. I’m sure at some point he’ll want to grab some real at-bats, whether it’s on the minor-league side or a back field, just to continue to build that timing. But I’m seeing enough encouraging things out of him, and another one [was] going out there for the seventh inning. He responded well coming out and we’ll see how he bounces back now on the off day.”

The Yankees are paying Tulowitzki only the major-league minimum salary of $555,000 after he was released by the Blue Jays on Dec. 14. If he doesn’t get it back at the plate or is physically unable to start the season, they can always slide Gleyber Torres over to short and use DJ LeMahieu at second.

It’s too early to make that call, but it’s also too early to overwork Tulowitzki just so he can get his timing back at the plate.

“That’s the balance you’re trying to strike,” Boone said. “Again, he’s kind of a gym rat and wants to play and wants the reps, and obviously having not had at-bats for a year and a half, he wants as many at-bats as he can. But you’re walking that fine line of making sure he’s built up properly, healthy, bouncing back, all those things. So we’ll try and be smart [with] how we do get him what he needs. But again, I’ve seen enough encouraging things to trust he’ll get there.”

With Erik Boland

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