TAMPA, Fla. — Greg Bird exceeded expectations on one front in 2017. He made it back into the lineup in late August when few thought he would or could after undergoing surgery on his right foot in mid-July.
Although Bird showed plenty of reasons why the Yankees believe he’s on the cusp of a breakout, he knows only one thing can help him shed the past — one that includes fluke injuries that limited him to 94 big-league games since his major-league debut late in 2015.
“I think people saw it, but I want to do it for a full season, I’ve got to do it for a full season,” Bird, 25, said Thursday after working out at the club’s minor-league complex. “That’s what it’s all about. I’m not going to lie, I’m anxious to show it, I want to. It’s what I’ve wanted to do.”
Bird debuted in August 2015 and immediately demonstrated why general manager Brian Cashman for several years had touted him as the best pure hitter in the organization. He hit 11 homers and drove in 31 runs in 157 at-bats.
But offseason surgery to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder cost him all of 2016. Then, at the end of an electrifying spring training in which he hit eight homers, Bird fouled a ball off his right ankle. A severe bone bruise cost him most of last season and eventually required surgery.
Bird struggled after returning but found a groove down the stretch. He hit .295 with a 1.165 OPS in the final 14 games, hitting six homers and driving in 15 runs. He produced a .426 on-base percentage and .938 OPS in the Yankees’ 13-game playoff run.
“It’s been an interesting couple of years, but I can’t wait,” he said. “I like playing. I like being back. This is where I like to be, where I want to be, doing it with these guys. You can’t get any better than that.”
Expectations are high for Bird and the Yankees after last season’s surprising run to within a victory of reaching the World Series, and they’ve increased with the addition of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. The offense, featuring Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, a healthy Bird and Didi Gregorius, should be a juggernaut. Bird, however, said not to sleep on the pitching.
“I think there’s a lot of possibilities there [with the offense], but I think our pitching staff has a chance to be really good, too,” he said. “That’s going to carry us. The offense will be good and I think that pitching staff, they can do a lot of damage. So you match those up and you’ve got a great team. And then you make it a good clubhouse like it is, and you’ve got an even better one.”
One that Bird said was about set to take the field in 2018 almost moments after the 4-0 ALCS Game 7 loss in Houston.
“I think a lot of guys felt that way,” he said. “After we lost, it was upsetting, obviously, but it was like, ‘All right, let’s go again. Let’s get ready to go again.’ And who better to do it with than these guys? They’re awesome. It’s an awesome group. Sky’s the limit.”
As for the heightened pressure for this season, Bird said to bring it on.
“It’s a good feeling if anything,” he said. “We’re on the map. We said we were going to surprise people last year, that was our thing, and this year it’s not a surprise anymore. We’re a good team, and people know that. So they’re going to be coming after us, and we’re going to go after them.”