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Yankees activate Greg Bird, send Ronald Torreyes to Triple-A

Rather than demote one of its eight relief pitchers or first baseman Tyler Austin, the Yankees opted to send down Torreyes.

Yankees first baseman Greg Bird fields the ball

Yankees first baseman Greg Bird fields the ball during a spring training game against the Tigers, in Tampa on Feb. 23 Photo Credit: AP / Lynne Sladky

The Toe-Night Show is on indefinite hiatus.

The Yankees on Saturday made the unexpected decision to demote utility infielder Ronald Torreyes — who became a fan favorite last year for his scrappy play and his faux dugout news conferences — to make room for first baseman Greg Bird, who was officially activated from the disabled list after undergoing ankle surgery in March.

Bird was in the lineup Saturday night and batted sixth.

Though Bird’s return has been a long time coming, it appeared more likely that either first baseman Tyler Austin or one of the Yankees’ eight relief pitchers would be sent down to make room for him. The Yankees, however, have just begun a stretch in which they will play 14 games in 13 days and need every one of their 13 arms, Aaron Boone said.

The 5-8, 151-pound Torreyes had a .339/.349/.435 slash line in 62 at-bats but had appeared in only six games this month.

“Obviously, a very difficult decision for us,” Boone said. “Hopefully it’s something that’s temporary for what Toe means to our team, to our clubhouse, to the guys in that room, to the way he performs. It’s certainly not deserved . . . The news, you could feel it in our clubhouse last night. It was rough. It was a difficult night, which is simply a tribute to who Ronald Torreyes is and what he means to our team and our clubhouse and frankly, how he’s performed in his years here.”

Though Torreyes could return for a day next week, when a June 4 doubleheader means the roster will be expanded to 26, general manager Brian Cashman did not rule out the idea that this demotion could be lengthy. Given the Yankees’ rotation, he said, he doesn’t want to risk carrying only 12 pitchers. For now, Cashman said, he doesn’t see that changing.

“I feel some of the starters we have, we’re not getting necessary — or should expect to get — the length that you’d like to get,” he said. “It’s best to protect the staff with 13 pitchers even though I’d prefer to be at 12. I’d also prefer whatever we have stays healthy.”

Austin, Cashman said, is a valuable righthanded hitter — especially with the Astros and Dallas Keuchel on the horizon — and will have more starting opportunities than Torreyes would have had. Austin entered Saturday night’s game with a .231/.289/.519 slash line, eight homers and 23 RBIs in 29 games.

Cashman added: “We have guys in Triple-A that would be on major-league rosters without question elsewhere . . . Yeah, we’d like to get Toe back in the future at some point, but I could say the same thing about Clint Frazier. I could say the same thing about Brandon Drury, amongst others, to be honest. It was not an easy decision, but we’re paid to make tough ones.”

Boone said he views Bird as an everyday player, though he does expect to get Austin some at-bats.

Gleyber Torres now slips into the backup shortstop role, meaning he’ll eventually get a chance to play his natural position when Didi Gregorius gets rested. Neil Walker will take Torreyes’ role as the backup catcher, Boone said.

And Bird? He was in front of his locker, beaming widely, shortly after the clubhouse opened to the media Saturday afternoon.

“Really, it’s been pretty impressive, to be honest” how comfortable he feels, Bird said. “I’ve been real pleased with it. If you would’ve asked me two weeks ago, I would have said I was ready. If you would’ve asked me a week ago, I would’ve said I was ready. If you asked me three days ago, I would have said I was ready. But definitely the extra days were useful for me. I felt like I made some pretty big weeks . . . I’m excited to be back and be a part of it.”

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