Tyler Austin has made Bird’s latest injury a virtual non-issue

Is Tyler Austin a guy now?

Has the fifth time proven a charm for the feisty first baseman-outfielder?

It might be too early to render an official judgment. No need exists to do so right now. Yet has any Yankee advanced his cause as much as Austin in this opening month?

The Yankees beat the Twins again Wednesday night, outlasting their perpetual punching bags 7-4 at a foggy Yankee Stadium, and Austin earned the game’s first star by excelling on both sides of play. If this marked his last game before he starts serving a suspension for his role in an April 11 bench-clearing brawl against the Red Sox in Boston, then he left ’em wanting more.

“He’s a great hitter. I saw that in the minor leagues for years,” Aaron Judge said. “He’s a major league player, and he’s showing it.”

“We won that game because of how TA performed both with the glove and with the bat,” Austin Romine said.

In the bottom of the third inning, Austin’s three-run homer against Minnesota starter Lance Lynn broke a 2-2 tie, and he added a seventh-inning double for hits and giggles.

And in the top of the seventh, when the Twins actually made it interesting by scoring a run and loading the bases, Austin chased down a Robbie Grossman pop well into foul territory and caught it sliding.

“That catch sliding down over in the corner, bases loaded, changes the game,” Romine said. “It saves our pitchers a bunch of pitches.”

Salute Austin for making Greg Bird’s latest injury absence a virtual non-issue. Remember, he was set to start the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before Bird went down once again.

And mark him, probably, down as a guy. An asset. Someone on whom the Yankees can count should more injuries occur. Or maybe even a trade chip when the Yankees embark upon their inevitable quest for another starting pitcher. You gain that sort of respect when you start the season slashing .305/.379/661.

“I feel pretty good,” Austin said. “The big thing is just trying go out there and compete, not get caught up in the moment whether big or small. Just try to put the ball in play.”

Did someone mention starting pitchers? Sonny Gray didn’t get the win Wednesday because he lasted only 4 ²/₃ innings, giving up three runs and walking five while striking out four. He still ranks as a concern, no matter how much he and Aaron Boone tried to portray this as a positive step forward from his prior two awful starts. The Yankees’ offense (11 hits) and bullpen (one run over 4 ¹/₃ innings) bailed him out. The Yankees vowed that roster depth would be a hallmark of this team, and so far, that has come to fruition.

Remember what happened in 2017 when Bird missed most of the season with a right ankle ailment? First base turned into a sinkhole, with Chris Carter, Ji-Man Choi, Garrett Cooper and Austin all whiffing (quite often literally) on their opportunities. At one point last June, Austin — who began the season on the 60-day disabled list with a fractured left ankle — was hitting so poorly for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre that the Yankees opted to keep going with the human windmill Carter over him.

In all, Austin entered this season with a .236/.294/.447 slash line in 51 games totaling 136 plate appearances. While he did display a knack for timely hits, that didn’t hide the overall subpar numbers he put up at offensive positions.

Now he’s producing at an offensive position; his homer off Lynn was especially notable because he went deep after falling into an 0-and-2 hole. Now, he just might be a guy.

“He’s been one of the pieces that’s really contributed and helped us win ballgames,” Boone said, and no spin was required to make that accurate assessment.

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