TAMPA — Greg Bird knows the deal.
The Yankees have stuck with him, injury after injury. But eventually there’s going to be a time when that stops if he keeps getting hurt.
“I don’t worry about that,” Bird told the News recently. “I just understand the nature of this game. You have to be reliable. I want to be the reliable one, and I’ve been working toward that.”
Heading into his final pre-arbitration season, the 25-year-old remains the man at first base for the Bombers. And the depth behind him remains extremely thin — even after they acquired the versatile Brandon Drury from Arizona on Tuesday night. Drury has played only one inning at first in the majors.
And before he entered the picture, it was basically Tyler Austin, along with some combination of Billy McKinney and, in case of emergency Austin Romine. Jabari Blash was also in the mix, but he was designated for assignment to make room for Drury on the 40-man roster.
Still, team brass remains bullish on Bird, who has the potential to be a superstar if he can stay on the field. He showed as much in October, turning on a 95-mph fastball from All-Star lefty Andrew Miller and drilling it into the second deck in right field at The Stadium.
The Bombers didn’t rent-a-Met at last year’s trading deadline. And they didn’t want to break the bank for Eric Hosmer in the offseason, either.
“I think he’s an impact middle-of-the-order hitter on a championship caliber team,” Aaron Boone said. “I think when we see him healthy and at his best, I think he will be a real option to hit in the middle of our order. And if we desire to split up our righties, I think he’s a guy that can do that and justifiably so for a long time.”
Translation: Bird could hit between sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the No. 3 hole.
“It would be awesome. It would be awesome. I just look forward to hitting in the lineup. And I think I’d do well (between them),” Bird said with a laugh. “But I think I’ll be fine wherever I end up. The middle’s kind of everywhere.”
Said Tino Martinez: “I think he’s going to benefit the most in that lineup from all the guys around him. He’s going to be a tough out and put up big numbers.”
The Yankees prepare for the 2018 season at spring training
Bird has played all of 94 career games. He lost the 2016 campaign to a shoulder injury. And he lost significant time last season after blasting a foul ball off his ankle late in what was a spectacular spring. His toughness was questioned as a result.
“It sucked being hurt,” Bird said. “It’s not fun being on the DL for an extended amount of time. I read something Andrew Luck said about his injury this past year, and the most difficult thing was being away from the team, and not really feeling like he was part of the team. That’s it. If anything you need that more when you’re down than when you’re playing.
“But that’s just how it goes. It makes you better. It makes you stronger. It’s not an enjoyable experience, but it’s valuable.”
Boone said he notices a “presence” and a “confidence” in Bird at camp, “and rightfully so.”
“This is a guy that’s had a lot of success,” Boone said. “For him, it’s just a matter of proving to everyone and himself that he can do it on an everyday basis in the big leagues, and stay away from those type of freak injuries that have happened. I think he just needs to go out there and show the world what he can do with a full body of work during a whole season.”
Bird just wants another taste of postseason baseball.
“The playoffs are so intense,” he said. “The games are more drawn out and you never know when it’s going to be your time to step up, and that’s the beauty of the postseason. You always have to remain focused and have that extra whatever-it-is in your back pocket. The days were slow and everything matters and it was so unbelievable.”
The Bombers don’t want a repeat of 2017, when Bird got hurt and the Chris Carter fiasco began.
Austin, the favorite to win the backup job, has had his own injury issues, while McKinney, typically an outfielder, was only recently getting more reps at first in the Arizona Fall League. Drury doesn’t have that much experience there, even though he makes you feel a little better. And Romine filled in admirably at times last season, but that was only in an emergency role.
So it’s on Bird to finally break through and be reliable. He wants to be. And, more importantly, the team needs him to be.