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Joe Girardi was trying to find a bright spot in a bleak picture.
With young first baseman Greg bird engulfed in a dreadful slump to the start the season, the Yankees manager expressed hope his last two at-bats on Saturday afternoon, which produced a walk and a groundout, was the start of “something good.”
But when Girardi’s comments were relayed to Bird, he wasn’t going to take the bait.
“Luckily,” he said, “I got great teammates who are picking me up right now.”
Bird understands the obvious: He is holding the Yankees back these days.
After going 0-for-3 and leaving five men on base in Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Cardinals at the Stadium, he has just a single hit in his first 26 at-bats of the season. He is 0-for-his-last-20, and has looked feeble at the plate, swinging through fastballs, fouling off hittable pitches when he is ahead in the count, and striking out at an astronomical rate: 15 times in 30 plate appearances. Getting dropped down to seventh in the lineup the past two games, after hitting third in the team’s first four contests, hasn’t helped matters.
“I feel like my timing has been a bit off,” said the 24-year-old Bird, who missed all of last season following shoulder surgery. “I’ve said it. I’m missing pitches. You can’t miss. That’s the bottom line. I’ve got to be better.”
Before Saturday’s victory, Girardi didn’t sound like Bird’s rope was getting any thinner. He was supportive, suggesting he was just in a slump, and his confidence in him hasn’t been deterred.
“We believe in Greg Bird, and I believe he’ll get going,” Girardi said. “I just think he’s going through one of those streaks where he’s having a little bit of a hard time that all hitters go through.”
Bird described the support he has received from Girardi and his teammates so far as “huge,” helping him navigate through a difficult time. His confidence remains the same.
“I can hit — I know I can hit,” he said. “I got to keep going, keep working, and work through it.”
His struggles are the latest example of how little spring training means. After missing the entire 2016 season following shoulder surgery, he hit for the second-highest batting average in the majors (.451), while sharing the league lead in home runs (eight) and posting the best on-base percentage (.556) and slugging percentage (1.098).
In his first three at-bats against the Cardinals’ hard-throwing ace Carlos Martinez, Bird came up with at least two men on base, and failed to drive in one. He struck out in his first two chances, and walked in his last opportunity, a rare positive at-bat for the young first baseman. In his last trip, Bird grounded out to second.
The hope was the four games Bird missed with a bruised right ankle and food poisoning would help him clear his mind. Instead, he has looked worse since returning, going 0-for-10 with six punch-outs.