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Are Brian Cashman's Days With Yankees Numbered?

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How Yankees' Tyler Austin changed his fate and Neil Walker's in 3 games

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Tyler Austin #26 of the New York Yankees drops his bat as he watches his two-run home run in the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on May 20, 2018 in Kansas City, Mo. (Ed Zurga | Getty Images)
Tyler Austin #26 of the New York Yankees drops his bat as he watches his two-run home run in the fifth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on May 20, 2018 in Kansas City, Mo. (Ed Zurga | Getty Images)

By Randy Miller

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rmiller@njadvancemedia.com,

NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

KANSAS CITY -- Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin's days in the big leagues sure looked numbered just a few days ago.

His new status as Yankees cult hero for attacking Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly after being hit on purpose in April probably will live on for decades, but he followed his ensuing suspension with an 0-for-19 stretch, and the timing of the slump was bad.

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Greg Bird is close to returning from March ankle surgery, and when he's back, he'll be the starter at first base. And that means the Yankees, who have been going with a three- or four-man bench all season, almost certainly will be forced to choose to keep just one of their platoon first basemen, Neil Walker or Austin.

Only a few days ago, Walker seemed a sure thing to stay because he finally was contributing at the plate after a terrible start to his Yankees career, plus his resume is better and he's more versatile.

And Austin, who still qualifies as a rookie despite playing 51 games from 2016-17, was going the other way.

Also, Austin has minor-league options, so the Yankees essentially could send him down and keep both first basemen as protection for Bird, who has been as injury prone as anyone in the game since 2016.

But things can change in baseball quickly, and they often do.

They sure have here.

Austin ended his slump with a couple of good games last week, then probably guaranteed his safety on Sunday by hitting a pair of two-run homers in the Yankees' 10-1 win over the Kansas City Royals. He hit a 440-foot blast to left in the fourth inning, then a 405-footer to center in the fifth, both against lefty starter Eric Skoglund.

Just like that, Austin is 6-for-11 with three homers and seven RBIs over his last three games. He has just 92 at-bats and he's hitting just .262, but his eight homers would lead six clubs and his 23 RBIs are the most in the majors for players with fewer than 100 at-bats.

Now all of a sudden, it's looking like Walker's roster spot is in jeopardy with Bird rehabbing in Triple-A as of this Monday and likely off the DL within a week.

Keeping Austin over Walker makes sense.

Bird is a left-handed hitter and Austin is a righty who crushes lefties, so he'd be a better compliment than Walker, a switch-hitter who is better from the left side.

Oh, and let's not dismiss Walker's stats: He's hitting just .211 with no homers and 11 RBIs in 109 at-bats.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was asked after Sunday's game if it's going to be hard to keep Austin off the 25-man roster and his response may have been a hint of what's to come.

"I don't even think about that," Boone said. "Tyler Austin is an important part of what we're doing right now and obviously another huge day for him to get us going with a couple long ones. He's playing great. He's done a great job all year. He's been a part of us winning games and hopefully that continues."

Austin, not surprisingly, had little to say about the Yankees' upcoming roster decision following Sunday's game.

"I haven't thought about it at all to be honest with you," Austin said. "I'm trying to take it day by day, and when I'm in there try to do my best."

He's certainly done more than Walker, a March 12 free agent signee who hasn't come close to producing like he did as a productive regular from 2010-17, mostly for the Pirates and Mets.

So when Bird comes back, look for Austin to stick around and get a lot of action at first base or DH against left-handed starters because he's hitting .324 against them with four homers (compared to .218 with four homers against righties).

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As for Walker, as things stand now a guess is he'll probably be designated for assignment and then traded for a minor leaguer. By doing this, the Yankees could use the remainder of his $4 million salary to spend at the trade deadline for starting pitching help.

Don't dismiss the freeing-up-spending-dollars factor because, remember, Yankees GM Brian Cashman still is under orders from managing partner Hal Steinbrenner to keep the payroll under the $197 million luxury tax threshold this year so their luxury-tax clock can be restarted.

And if Bird gets hurt yet again - would that surprise anyone at this point? - the Yankees have Adam Lind, a veteran lefty-swinging slugger, in Triple-A who could come up and split time with Austin.

"I'm not thinking about any of the other outside noise," Austin said. "I'm just trying to do what I can to help the team win."

Randy Miller may be reached at >rmiller@njadvancemedia.com

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Source : http://www.nj.com/yankees/index.ssf/2018/05/how_yankees_tyler_austin_likely_changed_his_fate_a.html

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