Throw out the data. Dump the matchups. Luke Voit earned himself a more extended look at first base — starting with Saturday’s doubleheader, regardless of who’s on the mound — by swatting a pair of two-run home runs Friday night in the Yankees’ 7-5, 10-inning victory over the lowly Orioles at Camden Yards.
And you know what? Despite Aaron Boone’s binder and the front office’s unbending loyalty to statistical analysis, the Yankees may be fed up enough with Greg Bird that they’re ready to turn the reins over to the 27-year-old Voit, whom Brian Cashman grabbed on July 28 in the trade that sent Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos to St. Louis.
At the time, it seemed like the real prize in that deal was the international signing pool money Cashman collected from the Cardinals, as Voit went straight to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as an insurance policy. But with Bird continuing to struggle, Voit now may have the opportunity to be something much more — the Yankees’ starting first baseman.
Normally, it would be easy to dismiss this as an overreaction to one game. Even Voit, in the midst of his postgame excitement, made sure to squeeze in that disclaimer during the interview at his locker. (“That’s what happens when you’re the rookie, I guess,” he said, smiling.)
But there’s a legit opening here, mainly because of Bird’s spectacular flop this season and a perception among some in the organization that he’s gotten a bit too comfy as an underachiever. Boone pretty much put it all on the record after Friday’s win, not only gushing about Voit’s at-bats but suggesting that he could force his way into a more regular spot.
“Sure,” Boone said. “You swing the bat like that, and you create opportunities for yourself. There are some opportunities to be had out there right now, and performance matters.”
Bingo. “Performance matters.” Those were the magic words. Boone was more forthright about a Yankee's standing (or lack thereof) than at any other time this season. He is not tip-toeing around Bird any longer. He started Voit against a tough righthander in the Orioles’ Alex Cobb, and once the game began, he repeatedly passed on opportunities to use Bird in situations that typically would call for him.
Take the eighth inning, for instance. With the score tied at 4 and the bases loaded, Boone stuck with Ronald Torreyes against righthander Mychal Givens, the Orioles’ nasty sidearming reliever. Torreyes popped up to first, killing the threat.
Afterward, Boone was asked if he considered pinch hitting Bird there, and the manager said he thought about it but didn’t want to make a move that would have used two players.
Bird rode the bench for the entire 10 innings. Even when Boone made defensive substitutions for the 10th, sending Shane Robinson to rightfield and moving Neil Walker to third to replace Miguel Andujar, he left Voit at first base rather than go with the more experienced Bird.
If this wasn’t a message, it sure felt like one, and Bird should consider Voit’s two homers warning shots.
Voit, for his part, was mindful of causing too much of a ripple in only his eighth game as a Yankee and fourth start at first base.
“No offense to Greg; he’s a great hitter,” Voit said. “He’s got a great track record. I’m excited just to get an opportunity again . . . I know I can hit.”
The Yankees saw Voit do it Friday night, in a big way. They just haven’t seen anywhere close to what they expected from Bird, and there’s not much season left.
The team’s patience clearly is running out, especially now with Aaron Judge (broken wrist) in limbo and Didi Gregorius (bruised heel) sidelined for at least another week or so. The Yankees can’t afford to merely carry Bird, whose .576 OPS since the All-Star break ranks ninth on the team (among players with at least 80 plate appearances), below even Austin Romine.
That’s not good enough. If not for the injuries, it’s likely that Bird already would have been replaced by Walker, who’s been needed elsewhere. The Yankees have been waiting for the reason — and Voit finally gave it to them Friday night.