LAKELAND, Fla. -- Gio Urshela has dazzled the Yankees with his defense at third base two years running, earning selection as an American League Gold Glove Award finalist last season. They want to see if he can handle shortstop just as well.
Urshela logged the start at shortstop for the Bombers in Tuesday's 7-4 Grapefruit League victory over the Tigers at Publix Field, handling two chances without incident.
"It felt really good; better than I thought," Urshela said. "I had two ground balls and I feel really comfortable. I've been playing a lot in the shift, so I feel really good for my first day."
Yankees manager Aaron Boone summarized Urshela's afternoon thusly: "Hit it to him and you're out."
Boone said that it is an experiment to see if Urshela can be a viable fill-in for Gleyber Torres this coming season.
"It's something he's pretty comfortable doing; same side of the field with shifts and all," Boone said. "It's something that I felt like I wanted to do this spring, just in case we ever get in a pinch or we're in a situation where we need to move him over there for a day."
Urshela has appeared at shortstop in 13 big-league games, most recently with the Blue Jays in 2018. He was primarily a third baseman coming through the Minors but occasionally was called upon to play shortstop, starting 16 games there in '17 for Triple-A Columbus.
"Whenever Boonie needs to use me, I'll be there playing shortstop," Urshela said. "I've played second base in the past before. I've played first a couple of times, so I'll be ready to play any position when they need me."
Urshela had surgery after the 2020 playoffs to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, an injury that necessitated a brief stint on the injured list in September. The Yankees expect the 29-year-old to be ready for Opening Day, coming off a year in which he slashed .298/.368/.490 (136 OPS+) with six homers and 30 RBIs in 43 regular-season games.
"It feels really good [throwing from] shortstop and third base," Urshela said. "I feel ready."
With Torres entrenched as the starting shortstop, Tyler Wade would be the most likely backup option at shortstop.
The Yankees like Wade's defensive versatility and speed, though he is one of several contenders for bench spots to open the season, with infielder/outfielder Jay Bruce, infielder/outfielder Derek Dietrich, first baseman Mike Ford and outfielder Mike Tauchman among those also being considered.
Catcher Kyle Higashioka and outfielder Brett Gardner seem assured of places on what is projected to be a four-man bench.
"You never know how the season unfolds. Injuries happen," Boone said. "I don't feel like this is something drastic we're doing with Gio. I think it's very easy for him to slide over and play short and keep that option open. At any point of the year, if we get in a situation, we'd just feel a little more comfortable that he's been there and done it."