Bird sits as Yanks go for O’s sweep, Sanchez plans return at Cubs

In case you haven’t heard, the Yankees entered Sunday’s series finale against the Orioles with the best record in the major leagues.

It’s been a surprising development, largely because the Bombers have been winning games without catcher Gary Sanchez, who hasn’t played since April 8 because of a strained muscle in his throwing arm, and Didi Gregorius, who made his season debut Friday after missing the first 20 games of the season. They’ve also overcome the extended early struggles of first baseman Greg Bird, who received the day off Sunday against Baltimore lefthander Wide Miley. Chris Carter started in his place.

Bird is hitting .170 and has just two hits in his last 27 at-bats. But the Yankees still aren’t worried. They have and will continue to wait patiently for the 24-year-old to break out of his elongated slump. General manager Brian Cashman said Sunday morning he hasn’t considered sending Bird to the minors.

“It’s not even an option for me in my mind right now at all,” he said.

Bird has refused to make excuses for his troubles at the plate in April. However, Cashman acknowledged Sunday that Bird was almost certainly impacted by the ankle bruise he suffered toward the end of spring training when he fouled a ball of his foot.

Bird was the Yankees’ hottest hitter in spring training. He hit .451 with eight homers, 15 RBI and a 1.098 OPS in 23 games. To put it lightly, that success hasn’t translated to meaningful regular-season games.

“He blasted his leg pretty good in Clearwater. I think that’s affected him getting out on his front side,” Cashman said. “Mechanically, it’s something he’s had to battle through. Whether that threw him off the first two or three weeks, I’d say maybe had a little bit something to do with it.”

Gary Sanchez.

Gary Sanchez.

(USA TODAY Network/USA TODAY Network/Sipa USA)

Cashman has noticed strides from Bird as of late, though — better at-bats, harder-hit balls, more stable, confident swings. He’s walked five times in his last nine games. And in Friday night’s wild extra-inning victory, Bird hammered a ball to center field that would have been a home run if not for Adam Jones’ leaping grab at the wall.

“He’s a good hitter. He’s going to hit, and I think you’re just seeing us respecting the ability. He’s going to come around. I feel like he is coming around, personally,” Cashman said. “He was bad the first three weeks. That was a fact. It was different than what we had been seeing from him for a while. But I feel like he’s coming through it and he’s impacting the ball better.

“He’s been our best hitting prospect, it seems like, for four or five years. So you don’t forget that. There’s ebbs and flows. It’s great that our major-league club is winning so it allows ourselves to work through maybe the lack of production early on here for the first month at first base. But he’s going to produce.”


If all goes according to plan, Sanchez will return for the Yankees’ series at the Cubs next weekend.

He will begin a rehab assignment in Scranton on Tuesday. The exact day Sanchez comes back will depend on how his arm responds to the rehab games, according to Cashman.

“Right now our hope is we’ll have him back for next weekend,” Cashman said. “If something leads us to think that he needs more time, then we can do that as well.”

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