Bird Looking To Get Back Into It

TRENTON, NJ - After hitting 14 home runs to go along with a .271 batting average and an on-base percentage of .376 in 2014, Greg Bird entered 2015 with high expectations. However, through the first month of 2015, his batting average was down at .226, and he eventually landed on the disabled list with a right shoulder injury.

In only his second game back from the injury and with his team down 2-1 to the Harrisburg Senators in the bottom of 8th, Bird came to the plate with the bases loaded and ripped a base hit through the left side of the infield to put the Thunder on top 3-2.

Although Trenton went on to win by a comfortable 6-2 score, Bird’s at-bat displayed his Major League talent, according to ex-Thunder manager Tony Franklin, who was filling in for Al Pedrique.

“When we got the second guy on base and then had the bases loaded and Bird comes to home plate, you can almost book it for me,” Franklin said. “I think he’s that good of a hitter, and I think he’s going to be a quality hitter at the Major League level, no question about it. I felt very confident that he was going to deliver a hit, which he did in that situation.”

Bird’s play since returning from the right shoulder injury, while not flawless, has neared the expectations last season’s performance — in 15 at-bats entering Tuesday night's contest, he had recorded four hits and he had driven in four runs.

His play in his return is not much of a shock to hitting coach P.J. Piliterre, who attributed Bird’s slow start to hitting the ball hard, but right at defenders.

“We preach to these guy that as simple as it sounds, all you can do is get a good pitch to hit and hit it hard,” Piliterre said. “After that, it’s out of your hands. If you do that more often than not, the numbers are going to be where you want them to be. It’s rare to see a guy hit balls at people the entire season, you’ve got to keep them just going and not get frustrated.”

In order to work his way back from the injury, Bird rehabbed and saw live pitching in Extended Spring Training. However, having to miss games wasn’t easy.

“Everyone jokes about the Extended grind, and hats off to the guys that are in it,” Bird said. “I was in it my first year and it’s tough. That might be one of the tougher levels in professional baseball, doing the Extended thing. It’s just a grind.”

While rehabbing in Tampa, Bird tried his best to rest up for each game, but some times found it difficult to get to bed too early with the way his team was playing in his absence.

“We’re playing good baseball,” Bird said. “I followed them as much as I could when I was in Tampa. I watched MILB a little bit when I wasn’t in bed — because we were up early there — they were playing well and we’re hitting our stride. I’m just glad to be a part of it again.”

The biggest aspect of his game that Bird tried to work on while in Tampa was finding a way to ensure that his body remains healthy and that he doesn’t aggravate the shoulder injury.

“The way I view this is everything’s a learning experience — just how you take care of yourself, how you go about your business, how you get ready for games, what you do after games,” he said. “That’s just how I view everything. Every year has new challenges, and that’s what I’d say I learned from this is just how to deal with this. It’s always how you deal with it and how you bounce back. That’s the hardest thing in baseball.”

Despite Trenton’s recent hot streak of six straight victories leading up to Bird’s return, Piliterre spoke for the team when he said it was thrilled to have him back in the clubhouse.

“We’re all excited to have him back not only for the type of hitter he is, but the type of leader he is too,” Piliterre said. “It’s good to have him back to boost the morale of the club. It’s nice to have him back when the team’s performing well before he gets back too.”

On the year, Bird’s average has climbed to .231, and his on-base percentage is currently at .346. While the numbers may be a step below what they were last season, Bird is slowly making his way back toward furthering last year’s breakout campaign. If he can continue to bring up the average, his 15 walks to just 18 strikeouts should allow his on-base percentage to follow suit.

After displaying his big-hit ability in the game against the Senators, Bird shouldn’t be in Double-A for much longer, predicts Franklin.

“I think you’re going to see him in the big leagues quite soon,” Franklin said. “I know he’s young in his career, but talent is talent and it plays at the Major League level. I feel like you’re going to see that quite a bit out of him over the next 15 to 20 years. So I feel very comfortable with him.”

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