NEW YORK -- Upon their return to Yankee Stadium following their week-long road trip, the New York Yankees found their clubhouse in full September mode: temporary lockers set up in the middle of the room to accommodate minor-league call-ups, and a bunch of new and youthful faces in the room.
One particular area offered a jarring sight: Corner lockers, considered prime real estate in a big-league clubhouse, that were formerly occupied by Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran were now inhabited by Eric Young Jr., acquired last week from the Milwaukee Brewers, and Greg Bird, who is rehabbing an injury.
The presence of Bird, who underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in February, was particularly noteworthy considering he will not play in any of the remaining 27 games. Bird, who is expected to compete with Tyler Austin for the first-base job at spring training next year, took batting practice in the indoor cage this morning but is basically here as an observer before he leaves for further rehab ahead of playing in the Arizona Fall League next month.
"I feel good doing a lot of things,'' said Bird, who impressed in a call-up last season, hitting 11 home runs in 46 games. "I think I'm kinda past the relief stage, if you will. It’s not perfect. It takes a little while, so it’s a good step.''
Bird said he began to feel pain in his right shoulder near the end of the 2014 season, but continued to play through it until surgery became the only option. Bird's loss, just before the start of spring training, left the Yankees without a legitimate backup to the often-injured Mark Teixeira, and they've had to make do with stopgaps like Rob Refsnyder (an OF/2B by trade), Dustin Ackley (remember him?), Ike Davis, Chris Parmelee and backup catcher Austin Romine. Tyler Austin, called up in mid-August, has struggled, batting just .171 in his first 13 big-league games despite homering in his first big-league at-bat. Bird shrugged off the suggestion that the first base job is his to lose next year.
"I'm not thinking about that," he said. "The anticipation for me is just baseball. Getting back here, playing with these guys, even just being here, I’m excited. I feel at home here. Being around the team, being a part of the team is really what I’m anticipating."
The fact that he was given arguably the best locker in the room -- the one right next to the door to the off-limits area of the clubhouse -- indicates the Yankees might be anticipating more than that from Greg Bird in 2016.
The Yankees still don't have a starter for Wednesday's series finale against the Blue Jays. That would have been Chad Green's day to start, but the rookie right-hander left Friday's game in Baltimore with elbow soreness. An MRI revealed a UCL sprain and a strain of the flexor tendon. No surgery is planned at the moment, but he will be out for the remainder of the season. In his stead, manager Joe Girardi said he would consider Bryan Mitchell, who has made two minor-league starts since returning after spring training toe surgery. Otherwise, it will be that old reliable: Johnny Wholestaff.