Could Gleyber Torres' heads-up baserunning play turn the tide on his 2021 struggles?

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Gleyber Torres celebrates with Aaron Judge 4/22
Gleyber Torres celebrates with Aaron Judge 4/22

Dashing around the bases in the eighth inning Thursday afternoon, Gleyber Torres made perhaps the most heads-up baserunning play of this young Yankees season. And, in the process, offered up a version of himself that just might banish any sour feelings over his poor start to the year.

Torres, who not long ago was summoned to the manager’s office after not running out a ball, scored from first base on -- get this -- an infield single. In a canny move, Torres exploited the Astros infield shift and took note when their pitcher, Ryan Pressly, failed to help cover the bases.

When he neared second, Torres saw there was no one covering third, so he kept running. When he got there, he saw Martin Maldonado, the catcher, lingering up the baseline toward third and no one at home. Torres knew he could get to the plate faster than a backstop clad in weighty catcher’s gear.

That run brought the Yanks within one in a game they eventually lost, 7-4. But it was hardly meaningless. It was a savvy hustle play by someone who got in trouble with Aaron Boone for not hustling. And it also might be a glimpse at how much talent still lurks within Torres, regardless of what his stat line looks like.

All too often this season, Torres has looked nothing like the explosive young players he’s supposed to keep company with -- Ronald Acuña, Jr. of the Braves and Fernando Tatís, Jr. of the Padres, to name two. His conditioning last season was criticized by GM Brian Cashman. His defensive work at shortstop has been substandard, leading to questions about his long-term future at the position, and his offensive numbers have been nothing special.

Torres, who hit 38 home runs the last time there was a full season, has zero this year in 107 at-bats. He’s batting .240 with a .288 slugging percentage.

But Torres’ gutsy Thursday run helps us remember that his disappointing start has not shut down his baseball brain. He’s still thinking, still straining for an edge, however he can get it.

“It was great,” Boone said after the game. “And obviously, as an infielder, he’s aware of shifts and different predicaments you can get yourself into. An incredibly heads-up play by Gleyber. I saw him racing around second and said, ‘Oh, yeah. OK.’ And then just continue to be heads-up and be able to score there and get us to within one there with our guys coming up the next inning, really heads-up by Gleyber.”

Torres said he’s thought a lot about such situations, where infielders are moved like chess pieces on clay in elaborate shifts. He says the Yankees often talk about making sure their pitchers are aware they must help cover bases when, say, a third baseman may be standing where a shortstop usually plays.

“I feel like I anticipated that situation before and I took advantage of the opportunity,” Torres said. “Just be ready if I have another opportunity.”

Maybe he will. Or maybe he’ll create more runs with his bat. In any case, perhaps his highlight play -- social media fell in love with Torres tearing around the bases -- will offer Torres and the Yanks additional hope that he’ll boost his numbers back to star level.

There’s too much talent there for him to be this ordinary, a concept that probably should sound familiar to Yankee fans after their favorite team’s slow start.

Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that Yankee Stadium boo birds were concentrating on Giancarlo Stanton, who’s now so hot that the surface of the sun is jealous.

Stanton, of course, homered again Thursday, and has raised his average from .158 to .312 over the course of a 12-game hitting streak. Clint Frazier, who’s been struggling even worse than Torres, also homered against the Astros.

Torres was 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored, part of his own awakening at the plate. He has reached base in a season-high 11 consecutive games and is hitting .308 over that span with a .426 on-base percentage. The slugging percentage hasn’t soared, though -- it’s .385 over his streak.

It was an emotional series at the Stadium. Boone allowed there was postseason level intensity since the Astros were making their first Bronx visit since their sign-stealing scandal exploded in the news.

Even in a loss, Torres created a memorable play with his legs, a nice complement to his recent steps forward.

A personal leaping-off point, too? We’ll have to see. His sprint wasn’t a month-long tear filled with homers, but it was something to feel good about in what’s been a difficult season for Torres so far.

Nobody’s saying anything about Torres not hustling now.