NEW YORK — The Yankees plan to activate first baseman Greg Bird from the disabled list before Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Angels, forcing New York to make a difficult roster decision.
Bird has been sidelined since having right ankle surgery on March 27. New York likely will decide whether to cut from eight relief pitchers to seven or option Tyler Austin to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre despite his strong performance in Bird's absence.
"It's something that we had a lot of conversations about, are still mulling over, just met a little bit ago to work through things and what we think the best way to go is," manager Aaron Boone said before Friday's series opener against the Los Angeles Angels. "It leads to a difficult decision, not a simple one, not an obvious one and something we're still kind of working through."
New York optioned left-hander Ryan Bollinger to Double-A Trenton after Wednesday's game at Texas and maintained its eight-man bullpen by activating right-hander Tommy Kahnle from the DL on Friday. Kahnle has not pitched for the Yankees since April 12 because of right shoulder tendinitis, which caused a 3 mph drop in his fastball average velocity this season to 95 mph.
Short outings by starters stress the bullpen, and an extra reliever helps spread the workload.
"What's the best way to kind of protect everyone but optimize our roster?" Boone said.
Austin is hitting .231 with eight homers, 23 RBIs and an .808 OPS and can be optioned to the minors. He is hitless in his last 14 at-bats.
"He's been an impact performer for us," Boone said. "He's a reason why we're sitting here where we are with a strong record. He's one of those guys that's played a major role in that, and we expect that continue through this year.
A pair of rookies emerged in the season's first two months to earn starting jobs, Gleyber Torres at second and Miguel Andujar at third. Neil Walker has hit .220 with two homers and 14 RBIs, appearing 28 times at first, five at second and two at third. Bird's return will lessen his playing time.
The 25-year-old Bird made his big league debut in 2015 and had 11 homers and 31 RBIs in 46 games.
He missed 2016 after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Last year, Bird hit .451 with eight homers in spring training but fouled a ball off his right ankle March 30, started the season 6 for 60 and went on the disabled list May 2. When the foot did not improve, Bird had surgery July 18 to remove a bone in the ankle.
Bird returned Aug. 26 and hit .253 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 29 games, then batted .241 three homers and six RBIs in 13 playoff games.
He hit just .154 in 52 at-bats during spring training with one homer, one double and four RBIs. Bird went 8 for 39 (.205) with three homers and eight RBIs over 12 games in a minor league injury rehabilitation assignment.
"I think he's good to go," Boone said. "We feel like physically, timing-wise, all those things, he's in a pretty good place right now to be starting his season."
Notes: OF Billy McKinney, who sprained his left shoulder when he crashed into the left field scoreboard at Toronto in his debut on March 31, ended his injury rehabilitation assignment and was optioned to Scranton on Thursday. ... Because mechanical troubles forced the Yankees' charter flight to return to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport after Wednesday night's game, the Yankees did not arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport until 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Last week, the Yankees spent a night at Dulles International Airport outside Washington because of a mechanical problem combined with bad weather and rules limiting flight crew hours. ... Minor league C Erik Kratz was traded to Milwaukee for a player to be named or cash, and minor league 1B Adam Lind was released. ... New York acquired C Wilkin Castillo from the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League and assigned him to Triple-A.
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