Bird out to prove he's healthy, ready to play

Yanks 1B more focused on returning strong than position battle

Bird out to prove he's healthy, ready to play

TAMPA, Fla. -- Greg Bird isn't concerned about an upcoming battle for playing time with Chris Carter. After missing all of last season while recovering from right labrum surgery, the Yankees first baseman just wants to prove that his swing is back to normal.

"I'm fighting to prove that I'm healthy and can play," Bird said. "I'm not fighting against anyone in particular. I'm just trying to play and play at a high level again and get better and become the best possible player that I can be."

After shaking off some rust in the Arizona Fall League, Bird arrived early for Spring Training and said that he feels better than he did at the conclusion of 2015, when he hit 11 home runs in 157 late-season at-bats at the big league level.

To punctuate the point, Bird launched a long home run off Yankees right-hander Giovanni Gallegos during a Monday morning simulated game at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been pleased to see Bird driving the ball to left-center field in batting practice.

"Today I felt like I got out there and just got in the box and thought about what I needed to think about," Bird said. "That's huge, being confident in the shoulder every day, coming to the park confident in the shoulder and being able to just focus on what I need to focus on."

Bird only served as a designated hitter in the Fall League, but he has resumed working out around the first-base bag this spring. He senses a difference with his throwing, which he said is close to full strength.

"It feels like I have something behind the ball," Bird said.

Who's On First?

The best-case scenario would permit the Yankees to count on Bird to serve as their regular first baseman, though they added insurance this month by signing Carter to a one-year, $3.5 million contract.

Girardi will consider a platoon between Carter and Bird, who hit .270 (31-for-115) with a .915 OPS against right-handers and .238 (10-for-42) with a .752 OPS against lefties during his two months in the Majors.

"To me, the run production is what's important to Greg Bird, because we believe that he has that ability," Girardi said. "We saw it for a two-month period. I know there'll be some adjustments and he's coming off an injury, but I'm not going to get so caught up in the power numbers. If he's who we think he is, he's going to be plenty good enough."

Bird and Carter were assigned lockers next to each other, and Bird said he isn't concerned about a little friendly competition.

"It's exciting. We've got a good bat, someone I can learn from," Bird said. "I think for me coming into camp, I have to prove that I'm healthy and get used to playing again. I've got enough on my plate."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.