Neil Walker plays four innings in Yankees debut, to play second base on Sunday
TAMPA - Neil Walker's official Yankees debut came as a first baseman on Friday night, as he played four innings at the position (and made two plate appearances) in the team's 2-0 loss to the Astros.
The biggest test of the spring so far for Walker, who just signed with the team on Monday, but prior to the game, manager Aaron Boone said Walker has been "feeling good" every day after continually ramping up activity - and Walker said that was again the case after Friday's appearance.
"I didn't get any ground balls, but the right side of the infield feels pretty comfortable to me, and it was good to get some action," Walker said. "I feel like I'm in a good place; getting some of these at-bats and standing in on bullpens has helped, but swinging the bat is the important thing, because that's where you get a lot of your timing."
Walker wasn't tested too much in the field, as he needed to make just three putouts, but he did have to range for a high throw from third baseman Miguel Andujar on one. And Walker didn't have a long night at the plate, either, as he flew out in the second, was hit by a pitch in the shirt fourth, and saw just a handful of offerings from Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr.
"The goal was to get a couple at-bats and start to build his innings up, and I thought he looked comfortable at the plate already, so a step along the way," Boone said. "We'll see how he comes out of it again tomorrow, but he's been bouncing back well every day. Just trying to build him up so he can be ready at the start, but a good first start for him."
In announcing Walker's pending debut earlier in the week, Boone said that the fact it was coming as a first baseman was more coincidence than plan, because that was where the at-bats were, but it would be a boost to the Yankees if Walker can be a solid backup option.
"I'd love to see him be that guy that can give us an option if we want to give Birdie a day," Boone said, "or, especially with the right-handed piece of things, if we want to sit Birdie against a tough lefty. I think there's the potential there for him to give us a lot of flexibility."
Walker has primarily been a second baseman throughout his career, and could ostensibly be competing for time there with Tyler Wade and others, but once again, Boone doesn't see the two in competition as much as he sees them as different options for different times.
"Especially with Wade and his ability to move around, there's some interesting moving parts there that can give us versatility and help keep us fresh," Boone said. "I think there's regular at bats for both of those guys if you work it right and go through the matchups. It's something that will probably be kind of fluid, even as the season starts."
Walker will be playing second base on Sunday, and likely extended to six or seven innings according to Boone, but he is ready for whatever challenge the Yankees give him.
"I've just been told to be prepared at first, second, and third; I think I'm playing second on Sunday, and then we'll go from there," he said. "I'm very happy with where I am right now, so it's a matter of continuing to see a lot of pitches and have good at-bats, and hopefully find some barrels here later on. It's good to know that I have another week's worth of work left before the season starts."