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Walker starts at 3B, belts 1st HR of '18

MLB.com @BryanHoch

ARLINGTON -- A forgettable play in a Yankees loss to the Red Sox earlier this month planted a seed in manager Aaron Boone's mind.

For the last week or so, Boone has been pondering a moment from the eighth inning of that May 10 contest, when Neil Walker -- playing third base for the first time this season -- cleanly fielded Christian Vazquez's grounder and fired across the infield for the out.

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ARLINGTON -- A forgettable play in a Yankees loss to the Red Sox earlier this month planted a seed in manager Aaron Boone's mind.

For the last week or so, Boone has been pondering a moment from the eighth inning of that May 10 contest, when Neil Walker -- playing third base for the first time this season -- cleanly fielded Christian Vazquez's grounder and fired across the infield for the out.

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Video: BOS@NYY: Walker ranges to the left, makes throwout

Explaining that he wanted to give rookie Miguel Andujar a day off, Boone on Monday gave Walker his first Yankees start at the hot corner as the team opened its three-game series with the Rangers at Globe Life Park.

Not only did Walker make his first start at third for the Yankees, he also connected on his first homer of the season, a solo shot off Texas starter Bartolo Colon in the fourth inning, one of five homers the Yankees would hit in a 10-5 win.

"I feel like I'm ready for any challenge that is thrown at me," Walker said. "Obviously, I haven't played a ton of third base, but I have played some in the last year, most recently in mid-August, when I got traded to the Brewers. I knew in Spring Training it was a possibility, so I tried to take as many ground balls as I could, in the limited amount of time that I had."

Walker will be relying on infield coach Carlos Mendoza to position him, and will trust his athleticism to do the rest. Walker recalled how his first afternoon wearing pinstriped pants this spring included a conversation with Boone, who instructed the veteran newcomer to take ground balls at first base, second base and third base regularly.

"I feel like he's capable of it," Boone said. "I wanted to keep that as an option. Miggy has played a lot of days in a row, so I just thought it was a good time to give Miggy a day and also keep everyone fresh and playing.

"I think what got me a little bit excited was when he went in the game [on May 10] and made a play, he just seemed very comfortable. We feel really good that he's going to be able to make the routine play for us over there, and like getting his bat in there. I'm not too worried about him over there. I think he'll do fine."

Monday marked Walker's 18th career start and 21st appearance at third base. He made four starts at the position in 2017, two for the Mets and two for the Brewers, and aside from the long throw, he said it is somewhat similar to his work at first base.

"You're seeing a little more top spin from the righties than you probably would at first base," he said. "You have less time. You're relying on your reactions a little bit more at third base than you would at first. More than anything, it's about if you can get to a ball, try to get to it and get yourself set to first base and get rid of it."

Didi returns

Shortstop Didi Gregorius returned to the lineup on Monday after a two-game benching to reset, entering play mired in a 1-for-45 skid.

"I'm excited that Didi is back in our lineup and seeing him out at shortstop," Boone said. "I won't get caught up one way or the other if he goes out and the results happen tonight or not. I know over time that the results will be there. I'm confident of that."

Showcase showdown

Though starting pitchers have not been officially announced by either team, the Yankees' and Angels' rotations are setting up for a possible showdown between Masahiro Tanaka and Shohei Ohtani on Sunday in New York. It would be Ohtani's first mound start against the Yankees, though he did bat against them earlier this season in Anaheim, homering off Luis Severino.

"Wow, I hadn't even thought about that," Boone said. "That would be pretty cool. Obviously, Ohtani has really burst on the scene as one of the talks of baseball, with what he's done and been able to do on both sides of the ball. I'm sure there will be a little extra buzz if it was Ohtani vs. Masa. If that happens, it'll be fun to be a part of."

Comeback trail

Tommy Kahnle (tendinitis in right shoulder) is scheduled to pitch on Monday for Class A Charleston, and should do so again on Wednesday. Boone said that Kahnle will not join the Yankees in Texas, but he is a strong possibility to be added to the bullpen on Friday in New York. His velocity has been clocked in the mid-90s.

"I feel like he's close and in a pretty good place, and hopefully he can come back and impact us like the way we know he can," Boone said.

Greg Bird (right ankle surgery) and Billy McKinney (sprained left shoulder) both had their respective rehabs transferred to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Monday.

"They're both playing and obviously getting a lot closer," Boone said, "so a decision will be coming down there maybe a week from now. We'll just keep monitoring Birdie to see where he's at and the right time to bring him."

Adam Warren (strained right back) has been participating in simulated games at the Yankees' complex in Tampa, Fla., and could factor into the big league plans next week.

Jordan Montgomery (strained left elbow) has not resumed playing catch.

This date in Yankees history

May 21, 1930: Babe Ruth hit three home runs in a 15-7 loss at Philadelphia. It was Ruth's only regular-season three-homer game as a Yankee, though he accomplished the feat twice in the World Series and once at the end of his career with the Boston Braves.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Neil Walker