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Gleyber Torres' struggles a source of frustration for Yankees

Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres reacts after he struck

Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres reacts after he struck out swinging to end the sixth inning against the Blue Jays in an MLB game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 9. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

BALTIMORE – Gleyber Torres is just 24 years old, but there already is speculation in the game – and that includes from some inside the Yankees organization – that perhaps his best years are already behind him.

That isn’t a universal thought by any stretch and, if the Yankees ever decided to move Torres at some point, there would be no shortage of interested parties.

But looking at the 2021 Yankees, as Aaron Boone put it recently – which represented the prevailing opinion of those in uniform at the moment – "I think (for us to be) at our best, Gleyber Torres is going to play a big role in that."

It is the reason why there has been frustration behind the scenes pretty much all season with Torres, with one clubhouse insider saying the internal hope was the solid play of instant-fan favorite Andrew Velazquez, recently sent back to the minors, might "light a fire" under the infielder.

That has not yet materialized yet. Boone acknowledged before Wednesday night’s game that part of the reason he pulled Torres early from Tuesday’s 7-2 victory was because the second baseman did not hustle down the line in the top of the eighth inning on a ground out to third.

"A little bit, yeah," Boone said, asked if he had "an issue" with how Torres ran out the grounder.

It is important to point out that, Tuesday’s non-hustle play aside, the "light a fire" comment was meant in terms of Torres’ performance and not work ethic, something that has rarely, if ever, been questioned since Torres got to the Yankees’ organization from the Cubs before the 2016 trade deadline. From the time of his first spring training in pinstripes, Torres was among those consistently arriving at Steinbrenner Field hours early to get in extra work with infield coach Carlos Mendoza on one of the back fields.

But getting back to Torres' 2021 season, it has not been good -- in the field or at the plate.

Torres, hitting .249 with seven homers and a .667 OPS entering Wednesday night’s game against the Orioles in which he started at second and batted sixth, has struggled even more in the field, so much to the extent the Yankees bumped him to second base from shortstop.

That started in Monday’s makeup game against the Twins and continued Tuesday night at Camden Yards. The move back to second, where Torres played primarily during his rookie season of 2018 when he hit 24 homers, did not pay immediate dividends as he committed an error on what should have been a double play ball hit by Ramon Urias, which gave Torres a team-high 19 errors.

"He’s playing like he’s afraid," one rival scout said of Torres in the field. "You can’t play careful in the infield, you have to play aggressive. Those hard-hit balls (like the one Urias hit) are the ones you want."

Torres did recover quickly as he cleanly fielded a sharp grounder hit by the batter who followed Urias, Pedro Severino, turning it into a 4-6 double play.

Still, after the grounder in the top of the eighth, the Yankees chose to replace Torres in the bottom half, putting in Tyler Wade, who shifted to short, in his place, with Gio Urshela moving from short to third and DJ LeMahieu going from third to second.

Boone afterward said "not necessarily" when asked if he saw lifting Torres late in games for defense as a strategy that will be implemented the rest of the way, though by any objective measure the move Tuesday improved the club defensively.

Speaking before Tuesday’s game, Torres said he understood the move back to second (where he mostly played in 2018 and split time in 2019 when he hit 38 homers).

"The way I played the first two years of my career, I played (mostly) second and I made two All-Star games there," Torres said. "Whatever they need. If I need to go back to short next season I’ll be available. But if not, I’ll stay at second and do my thing like the first couple of years."

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