ATLANTA | Oft-injured New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird had surgery on his ailing right ankle and could be sidelined for nearly two months.
The Yankees said Tuesday’s operation went as planned for the graduate of Aurora’s Grandview High School.
“Obviously, we were hoping it was going to be a shorter-term thing,” first-year manager Aaron Boone said Monday when the intended operation was announced. “But we feel like we got some answers. We feel like we know what the surgery’s going to accomplish.”
Bird had surgery will remove a small broken spur on the outside of the right ankle. Dr. Martin O’Malley operated at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
The slugger is expected to be out for six-to-eight weeks.
“Hopefully this is something he will now put behind him for good,” Boone said. “We feel pretty good that the surgery is fairly minor and they’re going to go in and correct the problem. Then he should be good to go.”
Tyler Austin, who had been slated to start the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, will likely get the bulk of the playing time at first base in Bird’s absence. There also will be games when Neil Walker shifts over from second base to first.
The 25-year-old Bird has been promising yet perplexing since his big league debut in 2015, when he came up from the minors 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 on March 30, started the season 6 for 60 and went on the disabled list May 2.
When the foot did not improve, O’Malley operated July 18 to remove a bone in the ankle.
Bird returned Aug. 26 and hit .253 with eight homers and 25 RBI in 29 games, then batted .241 with three homers and six RBI in 13 playoff games. Most notably, he homered off Andrew Miller to account for the lone run in a 1-0 victory over Cleveland in Game 3 of the AL Division Series.
Bird struggled this spring training, hitting just .154 in 52 at-bats with one homer, one double and four RBI.
In retrospect, Boone said, the player may have been favoring the ankle, though the team did not realize there was a problem until the closing days of spring training.
“I think it’s fair that it was a contributor to him not really clicking yet,” the manager said.
Austin is a right-handed hitter, Wade a lefty and Walker a switch-hitter.
“We’ll play the match-up game pretty much each and every day.” Boone said. “You’ll see different combinations with Walker at first and Wade at second, Austin at first and Walker at second. We feel good about it. We’re certainly going to miss Greg, but we feel good about what we can do from a matchup standpoint with those guys.”
While the loss of Bird casts a bit of a pall over the opener, Boone said he’s trying to think long term.
“In the grand scheme of things,” the manager said, “hopefully we do look back and it’s a short-term bump in the road and we can get him back for good.”
While Bird will be out in the opening portion of the new season, a couple of former Aurora prep baseball products will be action.
Regis Jesuit grad Ty Blach takes the ball on Opening Day Thursday for the San Francisco Giants as he replaces injured ace Madison Bumgarner.
Also, Bird’s former batterymate at Grandview — pitcher Kevin Gausman — is part of the Baltimore Orioles’ starting rotation and is scheduled to start against the Minnesota Twins on April 1.
— Sentinel Sports Editor Courtney Oakes contributed to this report