NEW YORK -- During the Yankees' recent series against the Angels, Neil Walker threw his hands up in disbelief after watching outfielder Kole Calhoun turn a three-run homer into an inning-ending double play. He later joked, "It makes you wonder if I haven't gone to church enough."
The Yankees' faith in Walker is beginning to be rewarded, according to manager Aaron Boone, who believes that the 32-year-old switch-hitter is shaking his slow start. Walker was 2-for-3 with a run scored and two walks in New York's 7-6 win over the Indians on Friday, raising his average to .188.
"Quality at-bats," Boone said. "I feel like he's hit in some tough luck, too, but really since Houston I feel like he's starting to give us those quality at-bats. Especially from the left side, he's finding that stroke, finding that timing."
Walker entered play on Saturday with six hits in his last 26 at-bats (.231), numbers that include three run-scoring singles from the recent road trip as well as two scorched balls in the first game of the Angels series that resulted in deep flyouts.
"Sometimes when it rains it pours, so you have to keep your head up," Walker said. "You have to keep it in a positive place, and you have to keep being aggressive."
It has been suggested that Walker's playing time or roster spot could be affected by the pending returns of Brandon Drury and Greg Bird. Drury is rehabbing at Double-A Trenton, while Bird is expected to begin playing in Minor League games on Monday.
Walker's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .242 entering play on Saturday, below the MLB average of .294. His expecting batting average (xBA) is .239, according to Statcast™, supporting Boone's suggestion that Walker has deserved more hits than his fortune has provided.
"His pitch recognition has been really good, controlling the zone," Boone said. "Hopefully he's starting to gain a little momentum, a little traction. He can really hit."
Prepare to pair
Boone's preference would be not to assign a personal catcher to any pitcher, but since Sonny Gray has a perceived preference for Austin Romine over Gary Sanchez, Boone said that the battery will continue working together. Saturday's game against the Indians marked their third straight pairing.
"I don't necessarily like the word permanent, but certainly for the foreseeable future, we'll try and probably match them up," Boone said. "We're not going to catch Gary five days in a row typically anyway. As we continue to plan out where it makes sense, we'll do it. Hopefully we'll get to a point where it doesn't matter, where Sonny is in a great place."
Gray and Sanchez worked together frequently during Spring Training, with Gray at one point stating that he loved working with Sanchez. Boone said recently that "it's a relationship that needs to work," and remains hopeful that Gray and Sanchez will work together with confidence later in the season.
"We have an All-Star catcher that we want to be able to catch any of our guys, especially if you ever got into a postseason situation," Boone said. "That's why I don't want to get pigeon-holed."
Luis Severino has 60 big league starts under his belt, which shies in comparison to an elder statesman like Carsten Sabathia (515). But for a rookie like Domingo German, who is preparing to make his first on Sunday against Cleveland, Severino represents an experienced source of wisdom.
"Me and Sevy were chatting yesterday," German said through an interpreter. "He gave me a couple of pointers about how to face big league hitters. One of the things he mentioned was being aggressive and getting ahead of the count. He went on to explain why that's so important, especially in the big leagues."
German is getting the nod in place of Jordan Montgomery, who is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a left elbow strain.
"I've been thinking about this for a long, long time," German said. "It's going to be a dream come true for me. I'm very thankful to the manager for giving me this opportunity."
Adam Warren (right back strain) played catch on Saturday morning, the second time he has done so while on the disabled list. He agreed with Boone's prediction that both he and Tommy Kahnle (right shoulder tendinitis) should be able to return to the bullpen by the end of the month.
"I think that's a reasonable goal," Warren said. "Now it's just about getting my arm strength back and we'll see how it feels once we turn up the intensity, but I'm feeling good about it."