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Troy Tulowitzki opens eyes with outstanding defensive play

Tulowitzki backhanded a grounder in the hole, and with his momentum carrying him toward the foul line, he made a strong, accurate throw to retire Erik Gonzalez by a half-step.

The Yankees' Troy Tulowitzki drills on the first

The Yankees' Troy Tulowitzki drills on the first day of full squad spring training workouts at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. on Feb. 19, 2019. Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

BRADENTON, Fla. — Troy Tulowitzki made it two homers in two exhibition games Thursday and Aaron Boone also praised his work in the field, saying how comfortable and “athletic” he looked at shortstop.

That was on display Saturday afternoon when Tulowitzki turned in an early entry for the Yankees’ defensive play of spring training.

With one out in the second, the Pirates’ Erik Gonzalez hit a chopper that hopped past a charging Miguel Andujar. Tulowitzki backhanded the ball in the hole, and with his momentum carrying him toward the foul line, he made a strong, accurate throw to retire Gonzalez by a half-step.

“That’s a great play,” Boone said after the Yankees’ 8-7 loss. “We were all, again, taken aback by that play.”

A towering, wind-blown pop-up to short leftfield hit by Corey Dickerson did glance off Tulowitzki’s glove for a double, but Tulowitzki had a double himself in his first at-bat.

It’s been all good news thus far for a player who missed all of last season after undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs from both heels last April and who was limited to 66 games in 2017.

“He talks about ‘I’ve been playing shortstop since I was 5 years old,’ and you can tell he feels very much at home out there,” Boone said. “He’s very instinctual out there, and his athleticism has been very good.”

Cessa solid

Luis Cessa is out of options and seems ticketed for the swingman role in the bullpen when camp ends later this month. Cessa allowed one run and four hits in three innings Saturday in his second exhibition start, striking out four.

“We believe he can fill this role really effectively,” Boone said before the game. “It’s important for him to come out and pitch well, but we really like where he’s at and how he’s throwing the ball right now. I think he’s going to play a big role for us this year.”

Options, options

Cessa isn’t the only reliever out of options. There also is Tommy Kahnle.

Some with the club thought Kahnle showed up for spring training out of shape last year. He battled shoulder issues and had a disappointing season, posting a 6.56 ERA in 24 games.

Noticeably slimmer this year, Kahnle has looked good in his bullpen sessions and simulated games, and in his first appearance Friday night, he struck out the side against the Orioles, with his fastball sitting in the range of 95-97 mph.

“That’s the best I’ve seen him throw since I’ve been here,” Boone said. “The way the ball’s coming out for him, I know he feels really good about it, and he should.”

Diehl-ing

Lefthander Phillip Diehl, a 27th-round pick of the Yankees in 2016, has impressed opposing team scouts and the Yankees. The baby-faced 24-year-old, generously listed at 6-2 and 180 pounds, struck out two of his first three batters, giving him five strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings. Then he was forced to leave the game with two outs in the eighth when he was hit in the area of his right rib cage by Jason Martin’s rocketed line drive.

“He’s a tough kid,” Boone said. “He’s fearless. I wasn’t surprised when I went out there and he’s like, ‘I’m fine,’ with a smile on his face. But he’s been one of those guys who’s really shined for us. He’s opened up some eyes.”

Diehl had a 2.87 ERA and struck out 108 in 75 1/3 innings in stints with high Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last year.

Bird call

Greg Bird went 1-for-3 with a double, improving to 6-for-11 with four extra-base hits. Luke Voit, slated to start Sunday’s split-squad game in Dunedin against Toronto, is 2-for-8 with a homer.

Extra bases

Luis Severino is slated to make his debut Tuesday … In Sunday’s split-squad games, Masahiro Tanaka will start against the Tigers in Tampa and Domingo German, who could land a bullpen spot out of camp or be stored in Triple-A as starting pitching depth, will start against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

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