Greg Bird demands your attention.
The 24-year-old, playing this spring after missing all of 2016 due to right shoulder surgery, was tapped Wednesday by Yankees manager Joe Girardi as the team's starting first baseman heading into the season. Girardi said Bird left him little choice in the matter, showing no ill effects from the lost year.
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"He's been really good," Girardi said. "Maybe better than what I expected, knowing that he sat out a year and you worry about guys' timing. It hasn't seemed to affect him."
Most certainly not. Bird was at it again Wednesday, homering twice and driving in five runs in the Yankees' Grapefruit League tilt with the Phillies. The homers gave Bird six dingers this spring, and he's hitting .439 with a major league-best 44 total bases.
Bird has been on the radar since he hit 11 homers in 46 games to close 2015 -- and perhaps even earlier for prospect-watchers, after he showed up on some industry lists prior to the 2015 season -- but the shoulder surgery and the team's recent signing of Chris Carter left some uncertainty about what role he might play this year. That uncertainty is now gone.
"It's always nice. I felt good in the offseason," Bird said. "I felt like my swing was where I wanted it to be. At the end of '14, I felt like what I could do then was cool. Now in the offseason I felt like I got that back. I was just excited to get at-bats and get back playing, really."
With that uncertainty came lowered expectations from fantasy owners, and as of Wednesday Bird still had an ADP of 244.5 in Yahoo leagues. A lefty hitter in Yankee Stadium, Bird might have out-earned that ADP even in a true platoon. But with the lion's share of at-bats in the middle of a still-potent Yankees lineup, Bird makes for a nice sleeper pick at first base who won't be slept on for much longer.
Martinez To Start Cards Opener
An implied changing of the guard in St. Louis last season was made somewhat more official Wednesday.
Carlos Martinez was named as the Cardinals' Opening Day (er, Night) starter for their April 2 tilt against the Cubs on Sunday Night Baseball, taking the honors from long-time ace Adam Wainwright. The Opening Day start will be the first for a non-Wainwright Cards pitcher since 2012, when Kyle Lohse had the honor.
Wainwright's struggles last season opened the door, but the 25-year-old earned the right after going 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA in 31 starts in 2016. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said the Opening Day nod comes with added pressure for the already-excitable Martinez, but that both he and the right-hander are looking forward to it.
“His maintaining and containing all that excitement and energy is going to be a great challenge, but also a great reward for what he’s done so far and what we see him doing going into the future,” Matheny told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Later, Matheny said, “Getting him to rein in anything is always a challenge but it’s part of the beauty of who he is and how he does it.”
United States Takes Home WBC Title
Puerto Rico scored almost at will throughout the World Baseball Classic.
Wednesday, they could barely muster a hit.
Marcus Stroman held the PR club to a solitary double over six innings of work -- including five hitless frames -- and the United States team scored early and often against their Puerto Rican counterparts, cruising to an 8-0 win in the championship game of the WBC.
Stroman rolled through a lineup filled with formidable young stars and veteran sluggers, as the right-hander and the USA bullpen held the trio of Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran to a combined 0-for-10 with three strikeouts. Stroman was followed by Sam Dyson, Pat Neshek and David Robertson to end it.
On offense, Ian Kinsler delivered the big blow with a two-run home run off Seth Lugo in the third inning. The US tacked on two more in the fifth inning and enjoyed a three-run seventh to put the game out of reach.
The championship is the first for the Americans in the short history of the WBC; in fact, it was the first time the US has made it to the final game. The second-place result was the second in a row for the Puerto Rican club, which also finished second in the 2013 contest, losing to the Dominican Republic.
Quick Hits: Miguel Cabrera (back) will be held out of action until Friday as a precaution. Cabrera left a game in the World Baseball Classic last Thursday with some back tightness. It's not a major concern, but the Tigers can afford to play things safer with their star slugger ... Carlos Gomez (shoulder) doesn't expect to miss much time. Gomez exited Tuesday's Cactus League game after jamming his left shoulder, but it doesn't sound like a major concern. Consider him day-to-day for now ... An MRI on Raisel Iglesias' injured right elbow revealed no structural damage. Iglesias last worked in a spring game on March 14. He has been shut down with elbow and back concerns ever since. With his MRI coming back clean, the 27-year-old right-hander will begin a throwing program on Sunday. Iglesias' availability for Opening Day is looking less and less likely, but it sounds like he won't out for too long after assuming he is able to progress through his throwing program without setback ... Luis Valbuena was taken out of Wednesday's split-squad Cactus League game against the Rangers due to left hamstring soreness. Hamstring injuries -- especially at this time of the year -- are troublesome enough in their own right, but in the case of Valbuena, soreness could be of particular concern. The veteran first baseman underwent season-ending hamstring surgery last August. He will be reevaluated in the coming days. Should this injury force him to miss games at the start of the regular season, C.J. Cron would be in line to see additional playing time ... Jose Bautista is set to return to Grapefruit League action on Friday. Bautista dealt with some back stiffness coming out of the World Baseball Classic, so the Blue Jays didn't want to push things. He should be back in action following Thursday's off-day ... Odubel Herrera was scratched from Wednesday's Grapefruit League lineup for precautionary reasons. Herrera is dealing with some cramping, so the Phillies didn't want to take any chances. He should be back to normal soon ... Ben Revere scored twice, stole a base and reached in all four of his plate appearances Wednesday in the Angels’ Cactus League win over the Mariners. Revere provided two singles, a walk and a three-run homer in the second inning. Revere has been impossibly hot this spring, hitting .421 with six RBI and four thefts. Despite that, he's part of a crowded Angels outfield and is expected to platoon in left field with Cameron Maybin to start the year.