TAMPA, Fla. — So much for that competition.
One of the Yankees’ position battles due to receive daily scrutiny during spring training was for the job of starting first baseman. But with position players scheduled to report on Saturday, it already is all but over.
Joe Girardi announced Friday afternoon that Tyler Austin, who had an outside chance to beat out Greg Bird for the job, will be lost for at least six weeks after suffering a small break in the navicular bone in his left foot. Girardi said Austin hurt himself when he fouled a ball off his left foot while taking batting practice earlier in the week.
That means the lefthanded-hitting Bird, assuming he makes it through spring training healthy, likely will be the Opening Day starter at first, with righthanded-hitting Chris Carter serving as his backup. Carter will start against some lefthanded pitchers.
General manager Brian Cashman signed Carter to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million last week, a move that many thought was extraneous but turned out to be fortuitous, given Friday’s news.
In truth, the signing of Carter, the National League co-leader in homers last season with 41, likely meant Austin would start the season with Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre anyway. However, a standout spring training by Austin at several positions — the plans were for him to play exhibition games at first base, third base and rightfield — coupled with a poor performance by Bird could have made things at least somewhat interesting. Austin had a long-shot chance at making the club as a super-utility player.
Austin did not try to run for a couple of days after injuringhis foot, but when he could not run on Thursday, he said something to the training staff. An X-ray did not show anything, but an MRI indicated the break. “He’ll be in a boot for three weeks and then he’ll start getting in a pool, so it’ll probably be six weeks before he’s doing much baseball activity,” Girardi said.
Bird entered spring training as a prohibitive favorite to win the job. Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and Cashman said multiple times during the offseason that that was their expectation and hope.
Still, Austin came to camp with the idea of giving Bird a run. “It’s unfortunate,” Girardi said.
Austin, noticeably bulked up from a year ago, when he made his big-league debut, was among the first players to report to Tampa. He had been working out nearly every day at the club’s minor-league complex since the third week of January.
Austin, who homered in his first major-league at-bat last Aug. 13 and finished the season with a .241/.300/.458 slash line, five homers and 12 RBIs in 83 at-bats, said Monday that the signing of Carter did not impact him one way or the other.
“I’m not going to worry about what I can’t control,” he said. “Just play the game the way I know how to play it and enjoy it, because this is a big opportunity . . . I just wanted to work as hard as I could [during the offseason and spring training] and put myself in a position to make the team.”